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The polar night is not pitch black, it’s magically blue! See what Kaamos actually looks like

While walking my son to school yesterday morning we noticed a peculiar phenomenon – the Sun was rising!

Living in Finland teaches us from the birth that winters are long. Not because of the cold and snow but because of the long darkness.

Kaamos is a Finnish word for polar night. It’s a beautiful word and we do not have that many of those to begin with.

But what is it?

Faint glimmers of light paint landscapes to vistas of beauty. (Liesjärvi National Park, Southern Finland, January)

Kaamos or polar night occurs when the night lasts more than 24 hours. In southern parts of Finland where I currently live even the darkest day still has few hours of light in. But most of the time dark clouds veil the sky.

While living in Rovaniemi (that’s at the edge of Arctic Circle) the days were even shorter. And as a student spending the “days” at the University of Lapland I went days without seeing any kind of daylight.

December, photo taken around noon, Olos fell, Muonio, Lapland (Northern Finland)

Above the Arctic Circle the long night gets even longer. In Utsjoki (the northernmost municipality of Finland) kaamos lasts a little over fifty days. Imagine living in a place where it takes over a month to see any ray of light.

Samoyed dogs looking at river Teno in Utsjoki. This is what noon looks like in the northernmost parts of Finland during polar night.

It would seem that Kaamos is the source of stereotypical Finnish melancholy. It might very well be at least a part of that but it is also the source of much that is beautiful. You might have heard the saying that “it’s magical”. That is quite likely the most accurate impression anyone can give.

In Lapland kaamos mostly looks blue. Christmas eve (noon) in Sodankylä, Lapland, Northern Finland.

Polar night is a phenomenon that is hard to grasp in the current age of electric light and busy city schedules. It might sound banal but it is something that must be experienced.

Sun rising for the first time after polar night in Kittilä, Lapland.

At first it does not seem like that big of a deal. The night goes on and on. But the more you think of it, the more you feel of it, the more you begin to understand the grandness of it. It makes you feel small. And it makes you understand the vast scale of space and how multitudinous the Earth is.

The beauty of Kaamos can be found everywhere if you are willing to look. (Kangasala, Southern Finland, January)

And in that long night, in the wilds of Finland, it is most likely that you will witness the magnificent Northern Lights. In Finnish they are called Revontulet – a word that can be loosely translated to “Fox’s blaze”. And there are a lot of stories about what they are. But we’ll leave that to another time.

Auroras above a reindeer fence in Utsjoki during polar night.

So if you have heart for celestial phenomenon like Solar Eclipses I would recommend you to visit Finland during Kaamos. It will be an unforgettable experience!

Northern Lights in Silence

The majority of the world’s people have never seen northern lights with their own eyes. Only 2% of the world’s population lives in an area where you can see northern lights. The Finnish Lapland is one of them.

Electrically charged particles (electrons and protons) burst out from the Sun and enter the Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of up to a thousand kilometres an hour. This current of particles is called solar wind. The blasts of solar wind cause northern lights and other phenomena of space weather. A part of the particles penetrates the Earth’s magnetic field and is directed to the Earth’s polar regions, where they collide with particles of the atmosphere at an altitude of 100–300 kilometres. This creates an overwhelmingly beautiful play of nature as colours change from yellow-green to red.

In the Southern hemisphere, you can only see northern lights in the Antarctic. In the Northern hemisphere, northern lights are plentiful from the arctic circle to 75 degrees north. However, this thousand-kilometre-wide band is not accessible to all. The region is mostly sea, extending to Spitzbergen, central Greenland and northern parts of Alaska and Siberia where the population is sparse and communications poor. Canada in North America as well as Iceland, Finland and Norway in Europe are thus excellent places to observe northern lights.

The northern lights’ season begins in the Finnish Lapland in August, when nights grow longer.

Then it is possible to see ‘double northern lights’, which are northern lights in the sky and their reflection on the surface of the water. In the autumn, you can also see them as a reflection from the surface of black ice. We call this the double aurora effect”, says Ilkka Länkinen, proprietor of Arctic TreeHouse hotel, which specialises in northern lights’ tourism.

The Arctic TreeHouse Hotel is located near the arctic circle in Rovaniemi. Its rooms have been designed specifically for viewing northern lights. The northern wall of all the rooms is all glass. The rooms have been graded so that they give to different directions. All hotel guests see mostly Lappish nature from their rooms – and hopefully northern lights.

The Arctic TreeHouse Hotel is located near the arctic circle in Rovaniemi. Its rooms have been designed specifically for viewing northern lights.

The hotel monitors the northern lights’ forecasts of the Sodankylä geophysical observatory, and it also uses the local Aurora Alert application which notifies the hotel guests’ mobile phones at any time when northern lights are visible.

“I can say from experience that if you stay three nights in the hotel, you will see northern lights with a 90% probability.”

The northern wall of all the rooms is all glass. You can observe the northern lights in peace and quietness from the room. In the picture the reflection of the exit-sign can be seen in the middle of the northern lights.

On a clear night, the average probability of seeing northern lights in the Finnish Lapland at 9 p.m. exceeds 50%. The probability peaks about an hour before midnight, which is the magnetic midnight, and the disturbances of the Earth’s magnetic field are at their greatest. The possibility of seeing northern lights increases the further north you go.

According to the Finnish Meteorological Institute, northern lights are mostly seen in Finland in northern Lapland, at around the latitude of Kilpisjärvi. When the sky is clear, northern lights are observed there on an average of three nights out of four. In order to see northern lights every night you have to go to the Arctic Sea coast in northern Norway.

“We always emphasise to the hotel guests that northern lights are a natural phenomenon, whose occurrence does not depend on us. Till now the tourists have been understanding that they cannot always be seen”,  says the hotel manager, Katri Kerola.

“The guests come to the hotel in the winter mainly because of northern lights. Northern lights cause a nice kind of grouping among the guests. In a little street, twenty people meet in the middle of the night, thrilled and joyful, to view nature’s theatre. The Instagram account of our hotel is filled with visitors’ pictures of northern lights. I come from here, and I too stop to watch them, even if I was in a hurry to get somewhere. Northern lights are Lappish mindfulness.”

A silent nature experience

The gustiness of the solar wind causing northern lights is known to vary in eleven-year cycles. It is connected to the number of sun spots on the surface of the Sun. The probability of the occurrence of northern lights can be predicted by observing the Sun’s surface.If a blast is observed on the surface of the Sun, it can be deduced that northern lights will occur in one or two days.

Staying at the Arctic TreeHouse Hotel is a calming experience. Even if northern lights are not to be seen, you can lie on your large bed and stare at the beautiful forest landscape in silence. Watching television does not even occur to you.

“We have intentionally kept the hotel quiet. There are double-insulated double glasses and a grass thatch overhead, insulating sounds well. The television set is intentionally hidden in the rooms”, Länkinen sneers and emphasises that the hotel was specifically designed to give a nature experience.

“You can watch nature peacefully indoors, irrespective of the weather. The architect’s starting points were a good view, peacefulness and a safe nature experience. Nature comes very near, because the large window makes the guest feel a part of nature”, Ilkka Länkinen says.

Particularly Asians have found the hotel.

“In addition to the British, plenty of tourists from Japan and Singapore come here. China is growing at 300% annually. Many weddings and engagement parties have been held under the glow of northern lights.”

At the Arctic TreeHouse hotel, you can watch northern lights both in water and in the air. At the Metsäkyly forest spa, you can watch northern lights in a jacuzzi after the sauna.

Extreme experience. You can watch northern lights at the jacuzzi of the Metsäkylä Spa.

You can also climb up in the air.

“We offer the hotel guests the possibility to view northern lights at the height of two kilometres. A seven-seat light aircraft takes you on an hour’s trip to where northern lights appear. Because up in the air visibility is 50 kilometres, we will surely have a show of northern lights somewhere.”

Aurora Alert

The Sámis believed that northern lights are created when a fox waves its tail in the snow, creating sparks, “fox fires”, as they are called in Finnish. Picture from the norther lights-documentary from Arktikum.

Aurora Alert is a local northern lights’ forecasting system operating in Rovaniemi. It forecasts and observes northern lights and notifies the customer of the location of northern lights in the sky. Essential in the service is that it only indicates the northern lights the customer can observe.

“The forecast of the Sodankylä geophysical observatory indicates the probability of the occurrence of northern lights. Aurora Alert also takes cloud masses into account. It indicates when northern lights are visible with your own eyes”, explains data communications engineer Reijo Kortesalmi, the developer of the application.

Aurora Alert sends a forecast, probability percentage and alarm to the mobile phone. The application is based on signal processing and colour analysis. Aurora Alert uses its local sensors located in Rovaniemi, serving the northern lights’ tourists of the Rovaniemi area.

Aurora Alert combines data from many sources.

“An indicative forecast comes every night at eight o’clock. The probability percentage indicates what you can observe with your own eyes. A real-time alert comes, for example, if the local cloud curtain opens for five minutes.”

The application also indicates the intensity of the northern lights.

“Number one means that northern lights are clearly observable with one’s own eyes. Number five means that northern lights light up the whole sky. The intensity of northern lights may vary in the course of the evening. At 11 p.m., northern lights may be of level 1, but at 2 a.m. the intensity may be five”, says Kortesalmi.

The duration of northern lights varies as well.

“Weak northern lights may appear for a few minutes, but strong northern lights appear from half an hour to one and a half hours.”

Kortesalmi takes his holiday from April to July, when northern lights are not seen in Rovaniemi. Forecasting and alerting starts again in August.

“Aurora Alert definitely gives the most precise information on northern lights in Rovaniemi.”

Ari Turunen (2017)

This article was originally published by SlowFinland.fi

How to take good photos of Northern lights? These 4 easy steps will help you capture the magic of the sky

Northern lights are one phenomena which everybody should see at least once in their lifetime. Seeing auroras is always a bit luck. Even if the odds are in your favor, it’s never 100% sure that they will show up.

Lights hiding behind the trees.

Fortunately Finnish Lapland usually offers pretty good conditions for an amazing light show. Every now and then Northern lights are visible also in Southern Finland.

Location: Tampere, Southern Finland. Settings: ISO800, f4, 8sec.

Seeing is one, photographing another thing. Here are a few tips that can help you to capture the show.

I was photographing sunset and suddenly this aurora show started. Settings: Iso 6400, f4, 2 sec.

  1. Best time to capture the auroras

Polar night during the winter offers many hours of darkness, but it’s also cold. Very cold! Like -20 celcius degrees (-4 fahrenheit). Summer is out of the option: There is sunlight 24 hours a day. It is completely possible to photograph auroras during winter, but wear proper clothes. Also remember extra batteries. Cold drains them fast. My advice is September and October during autumn, and March to April during spring. Autumn is also time of colors and spring is great for snowy sunset photos.

Dim auroras and city lights. Settings: ISO 2500, f4, 25sek.

  1. Wait for the dark and clear skies – use Aurora forecast

There can be Northern lights during the day, but they are not visible while sunlight is still strong. Sometimes powerful Northern lights can be seen after sunset. Find a dark place and wait. Clear skies are also essential. If the clouds are too thick, you can’t see auroras. Be patient. Sometimes even a cloudy night can offer 30 minutes of clear skies and awesome light shows. They might appear in one minute and be gone in the next. It doesn’t hurt to use forecast service like Space weather.

Shallow clouds and auroras in Lapland. Temperature -20c degrees. Settings: ISO 4000, f4, 25 sec.

  1. Use a tripod or something else to hold the camera in place

While aurora show can be strong, it’s not as strong as daylight. You’ll need to use long exposure, which means holding the camera still for 1-20 seconds. Tripod is great, but you can also use ground or something else to hold the camera in place. And use timer! You don’t want to accidentally move the camera by pressing buttons.

Hossa National Park, Finland. Settings: ISO 2000, f4, 25 sec.

  1. Camera settings

The best quality comes with DSLR cameras, but you can get pretty good pictures with pocket cameras and even some cell phones. If you can set ISO, choose shutter speed and aperture, great! If you can’t, it’s ok. With pocket cameras / cell phones, just find a steady place and point to the sky. If you have a night mode and timer, use them.

For DSLR I usually start with these settings: ISO 1600, shutter speed 8 seconds and aperture around 2.8 – 4. If lights are moving fast, try shutter speed of 4 seconds. Remember to compensate by lowering or increasing ISO. You can also try 15 – 25 seconds, but too slow shutter speed could mean one messy light ball photo.

Auroras in purple and green colors. Settings: ISO 1600, f4, 30 sec.

Hopefully these tips help you to capture your own Aurora photos. Please check out my Instagram profile @anttiphotography and comments are more than welcome. Thank you and see you next time!

Sudden auroras over lake. Location: Lapland, Finland.

NORTHERN LIGHTS IN HELSINKI (Welcome To Finland #1)

By Timo Wilderness.

A short story of our trip to see the lights unusually this south in Helsinki. That hill is the highest and the best place around to witness any kind of shit that is happening in the sky.

With this I’m starting a new series Welcome To Finland, the next clip is coming already on Friday!

Btw, for the nerds, the timelapses are shot with 1 second shutter speed, shooting every second or every three seconds, so the video is 25-75 times faster than real-time. In the video when I said the lights are “fast”, I meant the fast movement that can be seen with the naked eye but could not be captured in real-time film because of the bad low-light performance of my GH-3. These timelapses anyway give the idea of the phenomenon 🙂

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Exploring the harsh beauty of Kaldoaivi

This time we took Ulla, our alaskan malamute puppy to Kaldoaivi. Kaldoaivi is the largest wilderness area in Finland. It is not only the largest, but it is one of the northernmost wilderness areas as well.

During the winter the northernmost parts of Finland fall under the complete polar night, meaning that the Sun won’t rise neither set for months.

We wanted to experience the complete lack of light and did a 10 day ski trip to the desert of Kaldoaivi.

Our cabin was located by the beautiful lake Riekkojärvi, 20 kilometers from the nearest road. The cabin was modest, but it had everything a man needs – stoves for heating and cooking and the most comfortable mattresses one could imagine, or at least that’s how they felt after all that skiing.

Camping in such latitudes means you must be prepared for everything. The risks you take might as well be the last ones you are ever going to take, but make no mistake, it is worth the trouble.

During these 10 days we experienced arctic storms with wind speed over 30m/s and temperatures as low as -40 degrees celsius. We sure were a little worried about Ulla at first, but soon we learned that these arctic dogs feel right at home here.  Even though Ulla didn’t mind the weather, the rest of us had nothing to worry about in the warmness of our cabin.

We were surprised of the amount of light we still had even though the sun never climbed over the horizon. During these light hours we skiied and explored the fells close by, and when we didn’t feel like skiing we tried our luck with ice fishing. These little lakes in such remote locations may hold fish a fisherman can only dream of.

After the light hours the darkness took over. Or so we thought. The darkness isn’t quite the same here in the north. At first it seemed like it was going to get dark, but then the stars lit up and with the stars the nothern lights started dancing. The Auroras were amazing. I think snow was invented just to reflect the beuaty of auroras and moonlight back to universe, and just when you thought the lights were gone they came back and did they dance again and again.

Under these lights we slept and we wouldn’t care less for the rest of the world for these 10 days. Every once in a while someone woke up and threw another piece of firewood into the stove to keep the cabin warm during the endless night of the Arctic.

Finland is the 3rd best travel destination in the world – and Hossa is the jewel in its crown

Finland is the third best travel destination in the world, as published in Lonely Planet’s latest list. It’s the only country in Europe that made it to the top 10! Lonely Planet raves about Hossa in particular – a hiking area located in Eastern Finland’s mystical backwoods, which in 2017 will become a national park in celebration of Finland’s 100th year of independence.

We have listed here what we think you should really experience in Hossa.

  1. Northern Lights and stars shine in perfect darkness

Situated in Kainuu’s stunning wilderness, Hossa is far away from urban light pollution. Here you can experience complete darkness at night, and on clear evenings, marvel at the magical night sky and the even the Milky Way. It’s also possible to see the northern lights. All of this makes Hossa a fantasy destination for night sky photographers.

  1. Hossa’s natural environment is clean and quiet

Have you ever experienced perfect silence? When you can’t hear the hum of cars, people’s conversations or the rumbling of machines, even from a distance? In Hossa you’re surrounded by peaceful nature. You can immerse yourself in thought, breathe the cleanest air in the world and let your gaze rest on the picturesque scenery.  In complete silence. Sit down, make a campfire and surrender. Perfect calm and quiet creates a feeling that  you will never forget.

  1. Indulge in the fruits of the forest on your hike.

In Summer and late Summer, Kainuu’s natural surroundings are bursting with a variety of berries, all equally delicious. You  are allowed to pick berries in the woods and from the swamps as part of Everyman’s Rights. Taste the orange cloudberries, red lingonberries, blue blueberries and bog bilberries as well as crispy black crowberries. Crouch down in the forest for a short while to pick nature’s offerings, and your kuksa (traditional carved wooden cup) will be full in a few minutes. Bon Apetit!

  1. Hike and go mountain biking – there are over 90 kilometers of trails!

In Hossa you will find suitable trails for mountain biking as well as hiking – over 90 kilometres altogether. You could easily hike for a week. Routes are marked clearly, so you don’t need to worry about getting lost. You can get maps for the area from the nature centre, and local guides will advise you on an  interesting route suitable for your needs. An accessible nature trail, from which you can admire Hossa’s nature with children’s pushchairs or a wheelchair, departs from the nature centre and is about half a kilometre in length.

  1. Feel the ancient atmosphere on the canyon lake of Julma-Ölkky

This incredible canyon lake is one of the most mystical places in all of Finland. About 3km of  steep canyon walls reach up 50 metres towards the sky –  and under the water’s surface, the walls continue down into almost bottomless depths. The lake, proudly resting in the gorge is surrounded by untouched wild nature, a trekker’s paradise. You can admire the view of Julma-Ölkky by hiking the 10 km circular route from the gorge’s edge, or marvel at the canyon walls from the lake’s surface by boat, canoe or kayak.

Photo: Antti Huttunen

Photo: Antti Huttunen

  1. Hossa was inhabited by humans  thousands of years ago – here is their message to you.

The wall that rises straight out of Somerjärvi lake tells an interesting tale: that man has lived in these wild lands for thousands of years. These rock paintings, which are 3500-4500 years old, are the northernmost in our country. Over 60 different pictures have been found on the rock. Amongst them is a human-like figure with antlers, which could well represent a shaman. The route that detours to Värikallio is 8 km in total, and in winter you can get there by skiing. A viewing platform has been built in front of the rock, so it’s relatively effortless to go and admire this ancient work of art.

  1. So, you think reindeer can only be found in Lapland?

When you are travelling through Hossa it’s highly likely that you will meet some reindeer. You may come across a reindeer on the road or in the forest, or  even see them strolling through a meadow or someone’s garden. Reindeer are semi-wild: they wander through all kinds of terrain, wherever takes their fancy. If you want to visit a real reindeer farm and see some of these creatures up close, stop off at Hossa Reindeer Park.

Photo: Antti Huttunen

Photo: Antti Huttunen

  1. Take a rest in nature’s embrace – this lean-to is an idyllic spot

Along Hossa’s routes there are plenty of huts, campfire sites and lean-to shelters, where you can stop, camp and make a fire. The location of the lean-to at Muikkupuro brook is one of the most picturesque in all of Finland. You can get to the lean-to by walking around a kilometre through a delightful wide forest path. You can sit in the lean-to, light a fire, enjoy a picnic and even sleep. In front of the leant-to is a shallow, sandy-bottomed and clear brook, which feels heavenly to wade in barefoot. The spot is between two lakes and both lakes open out onto a lovely untamed landscape.

  1. Fall into deep snow and savour the frosty air

In winter Hossa is overcome with snow and sub-zero temperatures, turning this summer paradise into a winter wonderland. There is so much snow, that it’s hard to even describe – you just have to experience it. The area is a great place for skiing, snowshoeing and admiring the Northern Lights. Another popular past-time to try is ice-fishing. Hossa’s waterways are teeming with fish!

  1. Swim, dive and try stand-up paddling in the crystal clear waters of Hossa

In Hossa there are abundant lakes, whose sandy beaches and clear waters tempt one to plunge right in. In Finland you can swim freely almost anywhere under Everyman’s Rights, as long as you’re not bobbing around next to someone’s private shore. In the summer, Hossa’s lakes are pleasantly warm. Take diving goggles and a snorkel with you, for you can see far in the clear water.

You can also rent stand up paddle boards  from Camping Hossa Lumo and enjoy stand up paddling from the camping area’s stunning sandy beach. Other equipment available for rent includes kayaks, canoes and rowing boats. The camping area is run by local Maija Daly and her husband, Irishman Lenny Daly.

Maija Daly runs Camping Hossan Lumo.

Getting to Hossa

It is advisable to come to Hossa by car, as public transport does not currently come to this out of the way idyll. If flying to the region, the nearest airports are: Kuusamo, Kajaani or Oulu, from where you can hire a car and drive into the midst of Hossa’s unforgettable landscapes.

Hossa on the map

Translated by Becky Hastings.