My roommate knocked on my door and asked me if I wanted to go check out the Northern Lights.
I looked at her quizzically, “Where?”
“In Stockholm, now. Some people posted on Facebook that we could see the Northern Lights from Stockholm tonight. do you want to come.”
I grabbed my wind breaker and slide into my running shoes, “let’s go.”
It was the second time we were trying, to catch the Northern lights in Stockholm. We last tried it earlier this year but didn’t manage to see the lights. We weren’t the only ones to make our way, the Facebook post had spread and almost the whole district was making its way to the nearby beach, some were carrying large cameras with them; others, like me, armed only with their camera phones, we all wanted to get a glimpse of the Northern Lights.
Aurora Borealis around the world (source)
The Northern Lights is the common name to the physical phenomenon called the Aurora Borealis (aurora meaning lights, borealis meaning north). According to most people, the most amazing Northern Light sighting can be had in towns within the Arctic Circle. The most accessible towns to get the view being Tromso in Norway, Abisko in Sweden, Ivalo in Finland and Reykjavik in Iceland. Its not the only aurora that can be seen, there is another aurora that can be seen in the south, the Aurora Australis. It’s probably impossible to ignore an Aurora Borealis when you see it, because of the sheer majesty of the scene.
What causes the aurora? Solar storms. When there is a solar winds, charged particles (plasma) are released from the sun and these particles then interfere with the magnetic sphere that envelopes our earth (the magnetosphere). The role of the magnetosphere is to protect the flow of plasma from passing through the sphere. As these particles hit the sphere their energy gets absorbed and the atmospheric constituents are ionised and excited to give off the beautiful colours that we see. Just like how we fall sick and get a fever when our body is trying to heal us, an aurora borealis appears when it is protecting us from solar wind.
Here’s a better explanation.
To be able to see the Aurorea, you need a place that is dark enough with little light pollution. In fact, a reflective moon is sufficient to make things hard to see. We had a bright moon that night and I did not have a super strong camera to properly catch the view. This was all I could manage.
[TIP: To capture as high a quality aurora image as you can, find a place with the least possible light pollution and increase the exposure time so that the strength of the aurora can be exposed]
Thare are what more professional photographers can capture. The first picture was probably taken over Stockholm city, in 2015, probably in Skinnarviksberget, Sodermalm, while the second overlooks the Ericsson Globen, further south on the same island.
How do you know if the lights will appear though? Check this site set up by Aurora enthusiasts. It collects data and gives a three day as well as 15 minute prediction of the kp index – a value that measures geomagnetic activity. The higher the kp vallue the higher the chance of witnessing an Aurora Borealis. In the case of Stockholm, the kp value needs to be 7 to have a chance of seeing the Aurora, the highest kp value in the index is 9 and that gives even the chance of spotting an Aurora from Italy.
We got an Aurora on our second try. The first time we were in the wrong place – too much light pollution, the second time I did not work the camera well enough. Maybe the next time I’ll get that amazing shot…
Time to plan a trip to the Arctic Circle!