All about Auroras
Learn more about amazing northern lights!
You might have heard that auroras start from the sun and collide in the atmosphere giving the light phenomena when returning from excited state to zero state and so on with the scientific stuff.
Its nice to know where it comes and what happens. But that doesnt take you far. If you actually want to see them, read on.
What you need to know is where, when and how you can see them.
WHERE TO SEE
Muonio is situated straight under the aurora oval which circulates the magnetic poles. We are approx 69 deg Northern latitude. This means that we have auroral activity every second night without any special events in the sun.
The more south you go, the more activity you need to see the auroras. So make sure that your holiday is enough up north to maximize your chances of seeing the auroras.
Locally thinking its good to have a clear view to the north skies and minimal light pollution in the surrounding area. Rule of thumb is that if you can see the stars you can see the auroras too. Check beforehand which way is north. It would be good to have a small open area, river or lake pointing towards north. This way you can see low in the horizon.
HOW ABOUT THE WEATHER
Weatherwise Lapland is quite stable, the current weather changes slowly. Whereas in the coastal regions weather can change quite fast. This means that here in inlands cloudiness forecasting is easier and more reliable. Lucky for us local weather areas tend to split when going north. If it’s cloudy in Muonio there’s a good chance that clear skies are 1h drive away. Statistically november is the cloudiest month of the year.
Besides that the optimal time is between september-mid april. There is a small increase in activity during equinoxes. So around 21th march & 23th september your chances are 15% better.
WHEN TO SEE
Timewise auroras tend to show up between 8-12 pm. During bigger aurora storms the time window can stretch up 4pm-07am. When auroras show up they stay in the sky at least for 10-30mins. They tend to pulsate making small shows with brighter colours and speed. Then they calm down to a single arc in the north sky. In order to spot the most beautiful shows you should be prepared! Once you know that the auroras are starting, dress warmly and stay outside for a bit longer. When the climax arrives, you dont want to miss it whilst getting dressed in your room!
Old Finnish belief says that auroras come when it’s really cold. Luckily we can see them always when the sky is clear. In the mid winter we can have freezing temperatures down to -30 degrees. A nasty side effect is that lowlands close to habitat tends to fog up blocking the visibility a bit. This are the temperatures you want to get higher up!
We organize snowmobile tours to nearby mountains or fells as we call them. Trips take you above the treeline and also above foggy areas. Temperatures also tend to rise by approx. 10 degrees when climbing up (inversion phenomena). Treeless mountain tops offer a once in a lifetime view of the night skies.
Thick snow covered trees with clear landscapes stretching 100km on each direction.
HOW TO CAPTURE?
In order to capture the auroras with camera, you need a wide angle camera capable of taking long exposure shots up till 30sec, tripod or some other support and a good knowledge of the camera settings. Here’s the checklist for the settings:
Manual exposure settings (M-mode)
Exp. 20 seconds
maximum aperture, f/ 1.4, 2.8, 3.5 (as low as you can go)
WB incandescent (inside light, 3000k), during full moon AWB, automatic white balance
Manual focus to infinity
Self timer 2sec.
Don’t use any UV or other filters. Dim the display down to minimum and check the lightness of the pictures from histogram. It is quite common to underexpose aurora images.
Once you’re done with the images let your camera warm up in an airtight bag. Otherwise it’ll get moisture on the surface. This is not that dangerous but you have to dry the camera completely before going out again. Otherwise the moisture will freeze in the camera.
Some people suggest to keep batteries and memory cards in warm. With DSLR-cameras the batteries withstand cold quite well. If you decide to keep them in your pocket, make sure you don’t drop them in snow!