What are the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)?

Many travelers, the world over, have seeing the northern lights on their bucket list as well they should. This incredible visual panorama of natural light is never the same, wherever you experience it and between the subtle (and not so subtle) changes of shapes and colors, “aurora borealis” is a stunning sight.

But what exactly are the northern lights? In scientific terms, the northern lights are caused by electrically charged particles from the sun colliding with each other upon entering the earth’s atmosphere. These collisions result in emissions of various colors of light with green by far the most common, but red, pink, violet, yellow, and even blue hues also seen at times.

Here, for example, is a video explaining more details about the exact geomagnetic processes creating the northern lights:

And here is a great example of what the northern lights look like in Finland where we’ll be traveling in February 2018 on AdventureWomen’s 2018 “Northern Lights and Life in Lapland adventure:

The northern lights are visible about 150 nights a year in Finland’s Lapland, giving visitors a good chance of spotting these celestial wonders especially between the months of September and March. In northern Lapland, aurora borealis shines about every other clear night between these months in Fall and Winter. In Rovaniemi, in Finland’s North, the spellbinding astral show can be witnessed in and around the city until early April.  The northern lights most commonly appear between 10 PM and 2 AM, but can at times be seen as early as 7 PM.

Solar activity, which changes depending where we are in the 11-year sunspot cycle affects the frequency of auroras. The amount of large auroral displays tend to follow the amount of sunspots with a lag of a couple of years. The previous sunspot maximum was in 2014, so the winters of 2015–2017 are an excellent time to see auroras. If you’re planning on coming on our trip to Finland, you might want to watch the action in Pello (near our viewing spot in Rovaniemi) at this link from the Finish Meteorological Institute which tracks geomagnetic activity over the past 24 hours.

The magical light show of the northern lights might last from only a couple of minutes to several hours. We’ll be watching these celestial fireworks from the comfort of our sleighs pulled by reindeer giving you the ultimate authentic Finish experience!