I have dreamed of the day when I would see the Aurora for as long as I can recall; the idea that, in some parts of the world, the sky can turn neon green and purple was something I longed to discover for myself. I wanted to be humbled by the power of our planet.
In February 2015, my husband and I set out on an adventure to try and make that dream of seeing the northern lights a reality. We travelled into the deep northern wilderness of Finnish Lapland to a small lodge at Lake Menesjarvi. The lodge’s name literally translates to “Wilderness Mansion” and was the perfect place to seek out the Aurora due to it’s remote location away from any light pollution.
We spent the limited daylight hours exploring life in the arctic. We joined a Sami reindeer herder on a snowmobile ride to tend to his herds. We also explored deep into the picturesque Lapland forests on a 16km dogsled ride and tried our hand at ice fishing. All of these activities left us exhausted come nightfall, but the prospect of seeing an aurora display kept us going.
This time of year, the sun sets early in the evening, so the aurora viewing opportunities start around 6pm. At that point, the aurora is visible only as a thin green line along the horizon, but the rotation of the earth causes the aurora to soon appear overhead.
Finnish folklore suggests that the aurora is caused by an arctic fox swinging his tail and causing snow to fly into the sky. Modern science tells us that the aurora is actually caused by solar energy hitting the atmosphere. The different colors come from the different gases, with green being the most visible, followed by purple and red. Viewing the aurora is best done close to the north or south pole; in the darkness of the night, the gasses hitting the atmosphere create a storm of colorful lights only seen at these extreme latitudes. Aurora forecasting lets scientists predict, with reasonable accuracy, how active the sky will be in the hour preceding the activity.
Viewing the aurora requires some warm weather equipment and patience. Our location in Menesjarvi meant that the best viewing was done from the lake that had frozen over for the winter. We spent hours sitting exposed on the lake staring up at the northern sky watching and waiting for the peak aurora activities. In temperatures that reached -20*C (below 0*F), it was imperative to be well dressed!
The aurora rewards patience and commitment. After sitting in the cold, the sky would suddenly and unexpectedly light up in a colorful display of lights that danced and swirled like I could never have dreamed. At times the aurora was limited to a small section of the sky, but often it would fill huge sections with this bright green glow.
Seeing the aurora with my own eyes has been one of the most humbling experiences of my life; there are some things you need to see to believe and the aurora is certainly one of those experiences.
Although my dream to see the aurora has been satisfied, I thirst for more. Each night brought us a unique and different display to feast our eyes upon. I am now addicted to the nighttime glow in the sky......
PS - if a trip like this interests you, check out www.theaurorazone.com. They were top notch!