Our last day in Lapland (February 4th) promised to be our last chance to see the Northern Lights during our stay. Each of the preceding nights had snowy conditions so whatever magnetic storm activity that might have contributed to developing Northern Lights went unobserved by us. The evening between February 3rd and 4th ended on a relatively sunny note. The guide for our husky safari noted that the sunset (in mid-afternoon) had a pink tinge to it which he said often led to good conditions to view the Northern Lights.
We also had been monitoring two websites that predict aurora activity – one from the University of Alaska Geophysical Institute (https://www.gi.alaska.edu/monitors/aurora-forecast) and the other associated with the European Space Agency (http://aurorasnow.fmi.fi/public_service/). Both sites predicted at best moderate activity. That night did stay clear and cold with overnight lows below -10F. We took turns staying awake to monitor the sky – Melanie took the first shift and I started watch at 2 am. About 3 am the moon started its descent and by 4 am it had finally disappeared. With a weak display you need luck, some magnetic/solar activity, and a dark sky. For example, today Ivalo has had a fair amount of activity – but it’s also partly cloudy and nearly a full moon. The snow reflection and near full moon could mean seeing an aurora today could be difficult (and frustrating if that was your one and only goal!).
About 3:45 am several ‘clouds’ began to appear in the Northern sky and I was debating whether or not they were clouds – but they were not behaving like proper clouds would. Melanie woke up about this time and we realized that the Northern Lights had indeed appeared. You’ve all seen pictures (from: www.theguardian.com/science/2020/jan/29/amateur-stargazers-capture-new-form-of-northern-lights) of the Northern Lights and in Finland they can look like:
Our mind’s eye was expecting dramatic colors; however, what we saw instead was white Northern Lights – the glow and ribbons were there – however the intense green or red colors were lacking. What we also learned was that cameras can detect the colors better than the naked eye (think about white light being made up of different wavelengths). My camera did reveal some green color – but the longer exposure time created some added noise.
Despite the lack of vibrant colors the display was quite interesting. In addition, we were treated to several views of satellites occasionally passing overhead and bright shooting stars. Several other people we talked to the next day had hoped to see the aurora but never tried. We’re hopeful that we’ll be able to see the Northern Lights again during our stay here in Finland. In the meantime – another thing we can take off our bucket list.
The morning of the 4th remained quite cold – when we finally got started (we were grateful for being able to have a glass igloo the previous night!) it was -9F.
We tried Nordic skiing – and for Melanie it was her first time ever on skis of any kind. The instructor remarked multiple times that it was too cold to ski.
We spent our last few hours in Lapland walking and enjoying the scenery and the quiet and one last mid-afternoon sunset before returning home to Kuopio.
More adventures are coming up so stay tuned.