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Aurora Borealis / Northern Lights ?

My wife and I are planning a 10-day trip to Norway in early September. We'd really like to see the Aurora, and Wikipedia claims that aurora activity peaks near the equinox (a bit later in September), so that sounds promising. The "Norway in a Nutshell" tour offers a Northern Lights variant, which couples the standard "NiN" multi-modal trip with a trip up to Tromso, which is inside the Arctic Circle and is (again, per Wikipedia) one of the best places on the planet to see the aurora.

My question: Do we really have to go up to Tromso to see the northern lights? Have any Forum contributors experienced the aurora further south in Norway -- say in Trondheim or even Bergen? I realize it's all very unpredictable but I wouldn't want to commit to the Tromso excursion if it's not necessary, since there's so much to do/see in Norway without it.

I did a search and found 2 aurora discussions in the Travel Forum from 2010, but they recommended other places (e.g., Alaska, Canada, Scotland) for aurora viewing, and we are definitely going to Norway this time around.

TIA

Posted by
76 posts

If the conditions are right you should be able to see them from Oslo or Bergen which are both at about 60 degrees latitude. We saw the aurora in Tampere, Finland (61.5 degrees) in January. We’ve also seen them in Minnesota (45 degrees) but infrequently.

You will need clear skies, be away from city lights, and have solar activity and the earth’s magnetic field conducive to producing a display.

Check out this website for ads about aurora trips that may give you some ideas as well as other things to look for in the night sky such as noctilucent clouds.

http://www.spaceweather.com/

Posted by
12040 posts

Norway isn't a great place to see the lights, unless you head far to the north, go inland and stay put for a long time. Let me explain.

You need the perfect combination of circumstances. Foremost, there has to be a solar storm. This is kind of like rain. Somewhat predictable over the short-term, but over the long term, you can't possibly tie it to any one day. Second, skies need to be clear. The damp coast of Norway makes this condition difficult to meet). Third, the sky needs to be dark at the time of the storm activity- the closer to the winter solstice, the more hours of darkness you have, and therefore, the more likely that the storm will coincide with a period of darkness. In case the storm isn't particularly bright, you also need to be a considerable distance from ambient city lights. Fourth, you need to position yourself in the right place and time when and where a storm is predicted (see below). Finally, you need relatively unobstructed horizons. The aurora can occur directly overhead, but they can just as easily appear elsewhere on the periphery of the sky..

Let me give an example. I spent one winter month several years ago in the interior of Alaska. Even in the very dry climate here, far from the glare of the cities, I only saw the lights twice, and both times I had to make a considerable effort. I used this tool to pick the nights when aurora activity had the highest prediction in the region where I was staying. I drove well outside of the small town where I was staying, wrapped myself in warm clothes and blankets, and waited... and waited... and waited... I did this for nearly a week before I saw the lights.

So.... seeing the lights is a matter of putting yourself in the right place and time and getting lucky. Unless you make the effort, you're probably not going to see them. Just showing up one day and expecting to see a show is unrealistic.

Posted by
5786 posts

A good read is Bill Bryson's "Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe", 1992. The first chapter covets Bryson's stay in Hammerfest during the dark winter months waiting to see the Northern Lights.

Posted by
1 posts

The above posts are pretty comprehensive, but let me just add to this with some experience I have of living in Finland chasing auroras here full time.

The northern lights are dynamic. They move up and down the latitudes depending on how strong the activity is at that particular time. In times of very strong geomagnetic activity (known as geomagnetic storms) yes auroras are visible all over Norway and as such are sometimes seen in Oslo, Bergen etc. But such a geomagnetic storm is quite rare, perhaps only once every couple of months, so the chances of seeing northern lights at low latitudes at the exact time you visit are very slim.

The further north you go, the less strong the geomagnetic activity has to be. Once you reach Trondheim for example, you no longer have to have strong geomagnetic storms in order for the northern lights to show up, but you do still need some reasonable strong activity and as such they don't appear too often there either (but more often that the south).

Once you head up towards Tromso ways, even weak geomagnetic activity will produce good northern lights shows such is your close proximity to Earths magnetic poles, as such northern lights are visible here very often. But light pollution is a problem so you need to get out of the city and into the countryside. And you also need clear skies :)

So you need a few things in your favor to see a decent northern lights show, but tens of thousands of visitors get to see just that every year, so it's not that difficult, you just need a bit of good fortune.

Tromso is a superb place for northern lights, there are a couple Norwegian towns slightly better, but only slightly. So I'd really recommend Tromso. The nights are not quite dark enough for northern lights yet, but they will be (*just) by the time you visit.

Have a nice trip.

Tony
Aurora Service.
http://www.aurora-service.eu

Posted by
12040 posts

If anyone finds themselves in the northern two thirds of Norway tomorrow night, a huge solar flare is scheduled to hit the atmosphere, and it should produce a magnificent show. You may even be able to see it further to the south.

Posted by
1 posts

Hi

we travelled several times in northern Scandinavia to witness the Aurora.
Our best experience was with Abisko Aurora, a fairly small aurora specialist in Northern Scandinavia.
http://abiskoaurora.com/
They provided us with a lot of helpfull information, and felt very convincing before the trip. We travelled before to Tromso and Kakkslautanen in Finland.
The trip to abisko was by far our best aurora experience: really nice special aurora trips, and we were lucky to have some very spectacular views 3 out of 5 nights!

kind regards, brent

Posted by
29 posts

Tony the Aurora Hunter - thank you so much for your website. It brings us great joy!