Chasing the Northern Lights

Text and photos: Rayann Elzein

I am going on my eight consecutive winter chasing the elusive Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, all around Inari, in the very north of Finnish Lapland. Sure, I have also seen the Aurora in Norway and even Greenland, but every single winter I am drawn back to Inari for photography and to help people enjoy this magnificent show of nature. I am often asked “why do you always go back to Inari?” or “why don’t you try somewhere else?”. I always wanted to experience the northern lights, but at first the only thing I knew was that I had to go somewhere north. But where north? So after a long process and weeks of research I set my mind on Inari.

Inari is right under the Aurora oval

The Aurora Borealis appears under a huge doughnut shaped ring that is centred on earth’s magnetic north pole. Without getting too much into the science, this means that if you travel to a location right under the “doughnut”, or Aurora oval, you maximise your chances to see the northern lights, even when the activity is very low.

Inari is located at 68°50’N – 265 km (165 mi) north of the Arctic Circle. This positions Inari right under the ring, almost guaranteeing to see some northern lights on a clear night. This probability based on scientific facts is the most important criteria in my decision to visit Inari and return there so often.

An excellent road network

When you want to see the northern lights, you go “Aurora chasing” with a guide or your own car. In reality, it would be more accurate to say that you are chasing the good weather as you cannot see the Aurora if you are under clouds. Although I am no meteorologist, my personal opinion is that there are often clear nights around Inari. However, if this does not happen during your stay, don’t worry: there are several roads radiating from Inari to all directions. You might even end up on the shore of a fjord in Norway! This makes it very easy to chase the good weather.

Some words of caution: when you are driving yourself, be careful in difficult weather. You also have to be careful of reindeer and elk that are frequently standing or sleeping right in the middle of the road. If you don’t have experience with winter driving, or just want to relax and not worry about anything, then hiring one of the several professional guides is a safer idea.

Much more than just Aurora

There are many places in the world that are located under the Aurora ring but only few of them are inhabited and accessible. Despite being located so far north of the Arctic Circle, Inari-Saariselkä offers a full range of state-of-the-art tourism facilities: comfortable hotels, excellent restaurants, safari companies with a broad range of services. The entire area is also culturally rich, as the home of the Sami people. You can learn a lot about this at the Siida museum. And for a total immersion, an excursion with a reindeer herder will teach you more than any museum (you can even pet the reindeer!)

How to photograph the Aurora

With these few recommendations and just a bit of practice, it is actually quite easy to take some good Aurora photos. A camera with manual mode and a tripod are all that you need. The basic settings that you can use are the following:

  • Sensitivity: +/- 1600 iso
  • Aperture: the largest possible aperture (the smallest number on your lens, i.e. f/2.8-3.5-4)
  • Shutter speed: this one depends on the brightness of the Aurora. Start at 10 seconds and move up or down depending on what you see on your camera screen.

Focussing is the hardest thing to do at night. If you don’t manage to focus on stars, ask someone to stand about 30 meters from you with a flash light, and use auto focus on this light. Then switch to manual focus (MF) and don’t touch this setting anymore.

Tip: practice with your cameras before going out for Aurora, so that you know where all the settings are.

Aurora chasing

A frequent question is how often it is possible to see the Aurora. On a clear night, it is almost always possible to catch at least a glimpse of the northern lights. It might not always be some intense colourful outbursts, but if you are lucky you will see some light dancing in the sky. That’s why I always go out at night if there’s even the slightest chance to find clear sky.

My Aurora chasing usually begins in the early afternoon, when I browse through several weather forecast websites, and exchange text messages with other Aurora chasers all around the region. With this information I make an action plan and will usually start driving around 7 PM. I have often witnessed Aurora in the very early evening, so I like to be in position as soon as it’s dark! During the polar night, this can even be much earlier, like 3 PM or 4 PM.

Once in position, the waiting game begins (unless the Aurora appeared unexpectedly much earlier while still on my way!). Clouds might disturb the view to the stars, so I check the weather forecast once more, and call my friends again to have the latest update of their location. If needed, I will drive again.

The Aurora starts dancing in the sky. I am in my element now. I know how it moves, I anticipate its movements, I can be ready to take the best possible pictures. Sometimes it surprises me, actually quite often, and this is why I never get bored. I always return, and participate in the dance. You might even hear me scream “wow” or something in French. I take photos of my happy guests under the Aurora. I can never decide when to start driving back, because I know that another outburst can always happen. But I know that the Aurora will be there again tomorrow, and we finally drive back to the hotel, with beautiful images in our memory cards, and amazing memories in our minds.

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Inari-Saariselkä – Far in the North

Spending the New Year’s Eve in Lapland – Happy New Year 2019!

We have already passed the winter solstice and days are getting longer, but the polar night is still going on in Lapland. There’s only around four hours of day light depending on which part of Lapland you are, and the colours of the Polar Night are magical in the winter wonderland throughout the short day.

Together with a group of friends we rented a cottage in Enontekiö, which is located in the North-West of Lapland near the Ylläs-Pallastunturi National Park. In this area it is pitch black during the night, and with a clear sky all the stars and the Milky Way are visible. We also had a lot of powder snow and just quiet backwoods around.

This was propably one of the best New Year’s Eves at least in my opinion, since everything was so calm and quiet and not a single fire work was seen. Only the nature’s own fire works; the northern lights. It was pretty awesome to end the year 2018 seeing auroras in the wilderness. For me it was the first time to capture them on camera! Although I live in Finland, and even not in the southern part where there are more human made lights, I’ve seen the northern lights only a couple of time in my life.

On the New Year’s Eve we grilled sausages by the camp fire on a Finnish laavu (lean-to) shelter, I was skiing cross country and on the evening we had sauna in our cottage and just had relaxing time before the polar lights!

On my behalf I wish you all a happy new year 2019! May it be great and filled with outdoor experiences spent in the nature!

Christmas in Finnish Lapland

After 3 months of being on student exchange, the time had come for me to embark on a long-awaited Christmas adventure to snowy Finnish Lapland. This experience is literally the polar opposite of what it’s like in my home country, sunny Australia. I was especially looking forward to the untouched nature and of course the elusive northern lights.

On the long bus journey, we stopped over at Santa’s village in Rovaniemi and walked across the arctic circle. It can’t get any more Christmas vibe than this!

After over 12 hours of being on a bus, my group finally arrived at the pine-tree filled winter wonderland that was Saariselkä. We were staying in a rustic wooden log cabin complete with a fireplace and sauna.

Picturesque log cabins are where you can expect to stay at in Lapland.

There was fluffy snow up to the knees everywhere. Being above the arctic circle, this time of year is the polar night, where the Sun does not rise for several weeks. However, there were about 3 to 4 hours each day with twilight conditions. Being an avid aurora-chaser, it makes for an ideal opportunity to catch a glimpse of the northern lights – if only the clouds stay away at night.

The local area around where I was staying… so pristine and natural.

Beyond searching for the elusive northern lights, this place was an amazing location for a wide variety of activities that I tried, including husky-sledding, snow-shoeing, skiing, sauna, ice-swimming and of course nature photography. It was especially great to meet some husky puppies. But more than anything, it’s a place to wind down and take in the quiet and fresh air of the nature on short walks. It was indeed one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever been.

I actually have a very funny story to tell about my phone whilst husky-sledding. After my turn on the sled was complete, I realised my new Finnish Nokia smartphone had fallen out of my pocket (duh!) and into the snow somewhere in the arctic wilderness.

Husky-sledding in the arctic.

After lunch, the tour guide and my friends decided to make a search party. Walking through the snowy wilderness in the fading light conditions at 2pm, there seemed to be little hope, but the untouched and silent nature was just surreal. Suddenly, at the very end of the journey we found just a tiny bit of the phone sticking out of the snow. It was basically a block of ice.

But it was still on! And to my great surprise — still at 75 percent battery. The next thing to do is typically Finnish — to take the phone to the sauna so the ice can melt.

And this plan worked! Because afterwards it was working perfectly fine.

Lapland with its photogenic forests.

On the first night, I was most eager to see the northern lights. There were good geomagnetic conditions for aurora, so it was promising. That’s until I stepped out of the warmth of the cabin to see that the sky was mostly full of cloud. Nevertheless, I went outside as there was a few gaps where I could see a star or two. After walking around the village and shooting photos without luck for over an hour in -10 degrees, it was time to head to bed.

Then I awoke suddenly to find my cabin-buddies announcing that the northern lights would be visible soon! Half-asleep, I looked out the window to see nothing. I thought the window was facing north, but it was actually facing south, a mistake that would bite me this night.

I managed to find my compass which pointed me north, and by the time I got outside, there was only a very faint polar light show, with cloud rolling in again. The others who reacted faster saw a much better show this night.

Finnish Lapland is one of the best places in the world to see the enchanting northern lights. Photocredit: Jonna Saari.

The next night, in even colder and windier conditions, more luck was on my side, but only for a good twenty minutes. The skies cleared briefly just at the right moment to see a band of aurora flickering overhead and down to the horizon. I managed to get this photo before it clouded over again.

No matter how many times I have seen the lights, or how impressive they have been, it is always immensely exciting!

A brief show of the northern lights in the forested fells of Lapland in the midst of the long polar night.

The next night had even better auroral conditions, but it was cloudy and snowing heavily so there was no point of going outside. The following (and final night) there was a few hours of clear skies in the early evening, but the auroral conditions were so weak that only those on the aurora tours managed to see them, and only briefly. Though I did hear of a couple who got engaged as soon as they saw them! That’s definitely a Christmas to remember for them. And for us, it was for sure an adventure to look back on!

The blue twilight hour falls relatively early in the afternoon at this time of year in Lapland.

Our flag is white and blue, and so is our nature – happy Independence Day Finland!

On December 6 Finland celebrates 101 years of independence. Happy birthday Finland! On the flag of Finland there’s a blue Nordic cross on a white background. To show you how blue and white our nature can be, here are some photos that I have taken over the years in Lapland. Enjoy! 

Reindeer in Utsjoki, Lapland. This photo was taken on March 2015.

A woman drinking water from a stream in Muonio, Lapland. December 2015.

Pallas fells photographed during polar night in Muonio, Lapland. December 2015.

A café and some snowy trees on the top of Levi fell in Kittilä. January 2016.

Watching auroras in Kittilä. December 2016.

A birch forest in Utsjoki, Lapland. February 2017.

Perfect silence. Sompio Strict Nature Reserve, Sodankylä, Lapland. December 2018.

Black dog in a white forest. March 2017.

A view from the top of Kaunispää Fell in Inari, Lapland. March 2017.

Snowy birch in Sodankylä. March 2017.

 

Diary of an Aurora-Chaser

When it comes to aurora-chasing, any number of unexpected, lucky or unlucky things can happen. Along with more obvious hazards such as being exposed to extreme cold and simply not seeing any northern lights, there can be camera malfunctions and even trouble from wild animals, unwanted police presence and then a shooting star to break it all up.

A chase can end in total failure — or a whole-sky aurora storm. The single greatest problem is having the aurora blocked out by clouds. Much research and planning goes into understanding when is the right time to search for the lights. But when you can see them, it makes it all worth it.

This was a spectacular aurora storm… and in a CITY (Helsinki) too! Still the best show I have seen… yet.

I am an adventure-minded Australian that has been chasing auroras since my time on a study exchange in Helsinki in 2017. Since then, I have become almost addicted, taking many opportunities to go in search for them, even in my home in Southern Australia (where it is MUCH harder to see them).

Here is a diary of my adventures… and misadventures searching for them in Southern Finland. Note: while most of these below photos were taken by me, the few that weren’t have the photographer fully credited.

Chasing auroras can often be a game of waiting for months… or even years for the perfect storm. Photo: Jonna Saari

Friday October 13th 2017 — Kirkkonummi, Finland

This was to be my first ever aurora chase, and what better night to go out into the wild than Friday the 13th. To start off, I took a night bus from Helsinki that meandered its way through the Finnish countryside.

I looked at the dials that measure the chance of seeing an aurora. They were looking very promising.

This is the area around my destination during the day — very enchanting.

When I arrived to my destination, the air was cold and crisp, with few clouds in sight. The perfect setting.

Then as I started walking towards a better vantage point along the lonely road, I wandered past a large, guarded gate. It was opening.

Coming from within, there was a menacing large vehicle. The vehicle pulled up beside me. Two heavily armed military soldiers stepped out.

They questioned what I was doing there. Unknowingly, I was in a restricted area.

The soldiers escorted me to the cell at the back of the vehicle. The vehicle started to move. There was only a tiny window in the cell. It was very dark inside. The walls were closing in.

The vehicle kept moving.

Another photo from during the day.

Worrying and tense feelings came over me.

Suddenly, the vehicle stopped. After getting out, they exchanged words with each other that I could not understand.

They approached close, looming over me. Closer yet. Interrogation.

Then they began to speak in a surprising manner.

‘Never come back here again unless you want to be arrested. You can find the bus stop further along this road.’

They trudged back to the vehicle and droned away through the cutting darkness.

I had a sense of overwhelming relief. I was free.

But it was the middle of a dark forest road. Walking was now the only option.

Tall, twisted trees loomed on either side. The night was clear with stars flickering. Leaves rustled in the distance. But no view of the northern horizon, and no sign of those elusive lights.

What it was like being in that forest.

Then… a clearing could be seen ahead! I hurried there and set up my camera equipment in anticipation.

Looking upon the northern horizon there was a pale glow low on the sky. To my great luck, there suddenly was…

A bright shooting star!

 

Being still inexperienced at aurora chasing, I had no idea whether this mysterious glow was an aurora or not, so I let the camera shoot away. At home, I looked at the photos properly.

Sure enough, the pale glow was green. It was my first capture of the northern lights.

This was the aurora adventure that turned into a ‘lucky’ misadventure.

Aurora Chase Result: 6/10

 

Tuesday November 7th 2017 — Helsinki, Finland

There is always something mysteriously enchanting about the northern lights, even a certain sadness about them, as they have the capacity to lift ones psyche right up regardless of the circumstances. And this night truly did that.

On a relatively quiet night, where there was no major activity forecast, I was just sitting in my room reflecting on things. The shortening and mostly grey days of November give a sombre air at this time of year.

Then I got a notification on my phone that the northern lights may be visible in Helsinki imminently.

The solar activity was much stronger than forecast, and was now at moderate storm level (kp6+). These events are quite rare.

So I hurriedly raced down in the cold, middle of the night with my GoPro camera to the Helsinki ‘beach’. More like a rocky outcrop.

When I got there, to my complete shock, I saw them! They were reasonably low on the horizon, but they were moving much faster than I expected, and there was definitely some colour in there as well! There were these forms that kind of ebbed and flowed.

My first glimpse of the aurora from that rocky outcrop complete with city lights.

Unbelievable. This was my first time seeing the northern lights properly — and the best word to describe it is maybe mesmerizing. Like wow, they are really there.

I almost fell over on the rocks and almost dropped my camera in the sheer excitement.

Then, problem!

The GoPro started beeping non-stop as I tried to set it up.

But to my great luck it wasn’t broken and I managed to make it work again.

The unexpected combination of northern lights and a big city, captured by Ustun Ergenoglu on this night also.

Started to take some photos. The lighting and setting wasn’t that good so I decided to change location to another nearby ‘beach’.

This one turned out to have much better photos, and the northern lights after being quiet for some time again flared up and this time were very spectacular.

I stayed for a while longer until the show really died down.

Later, after a bit of editing the photos I thought it would be a good idea to try my luck at sending the photos to the Finnish news. To my surprise, they offered to post them on their Facebook!

The original edit of the northern lights from the Helsinki foreshore that night.

This was truly a night to remember, and was one of the most widely seen and photographed northern lights events in Finland in recent years. Still the best show I have ever seen.

Aurora Chase Result: 9/10

 

Tuesday, December 5th 2017 — Tampere, Finland

This day I embarked on an overnight trip to Tampere to chase the northern lights. Far in advance, there was a predicted high level of activity as the region of the sun that caused the previous northern lights show in Helsinki returned to face earth.

A picture from an earlier daytime trip to Tampere.

Everything was set, and the conditions were slowly creeping up to the expected levels as night fell. But there was one problem — cloud cover that didn’t seem to be budging to go away.

Tampere is a picturesque city situated between two lakes — ideal for viewing the lights if they are present.

As it was an overnight trip, I waited until it was almost 10pm to head to the ideal viewing location by the lake, as auroras are generally strongest and most likely around midnight. However, they can happen at any time and this came back to bite me this day.

While I was walking towards the vantage point, I could hear cheers coming from the lakefront. I figured that the people already there had seen something exciting, so I hurried to get there — but all I could see was cloud cover and a small amount of glow, like something was happening above the clouds near the horizon.

Bad luck… this is the best it got for the night; just a streak of colour behind the clouds.

I figured that in between the heavy cloud there must have been a break, allowing the others to catch a glimpse of an auroral show, even if just for a few minutes. It eventually started snowing and I decided that was it for the night. I learned not to trust rules of thumb with aurora hunting — the lights can appear early evening, midnight, or morning.

Aurora Chase Result: 4/10

Every man’s best friend, Siberian Jay – Meeting the soul-bird in Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park.

When you walk through the nature in northern parts of Finland, especially in Lapland, you will most likely end up meeting a new friend during your lunch or coffee break.

Siberian Jays are known for being fearless and tame, and they will often land close to you immediately when you pause and dig up your lunch or snack. For hundreds of years these birds have been companions to hunters and rangers in the woods. In the Finnish folklore Siberian Jay was called a ‘soul-bird’ and when a ranger died his spirit was believed to move to one of these birds.

Siberian Jay is a member of the crow family but is much smaller compared to the actual crow. Their colour is grayish brown with beautiful bright rust-coloured markings on their rumps, the edges of their tails and wings. This bird lives mostly in the northern boreal forests of spruce and pine, the so called taiga area.

I’ve never met a Siberian Jay as close as I did on my latest trip to Pallas-Yllästunturi Nationalpark in western Lapland. These little fellows were so tame and eager to get a piece of my food that they even landed on my hand. I felt gratitude to meet the soul-bird so close.

I spotted Siberian Jays almost everywhere in the woods and forest parts of Pallas-Yllästunturi Nationalpark. But these pictures are from an easy 3 km trail called Saivionkierros, which is located near Ylläs and Äkäslompolo village in Kolari. If you are interested in this or other hiking trails around the Ylläs area you can find more information via this link.

If you meet one of these birds on your travels in Lapland you can offer them a small piece of white bread, but remember that salt and salty foods are not healthy or good for them.

Who cares about Halloween? We have Kekri! 5 facts about the Finnish harvest celebration when even ghosts go to sauna.

Kekri is an old Finnish agricultural harvest festival celebrated in autumn, and it’s also the time for the souls and spirits of the dead to visit us who are still living here on Earth. This is the time when even ghosts go to sauna! 

Halloween or All Hallow’s Eve has spred all around the world from the United States. It has made its way also to Finland during the resent years, but did you know that Jack O’Lantern, trick or treating, costumes and ghosts all refer to European traditions that are thousands of years old?

In Finland we have long agricultural traditions with the harvest celebrations: Kekri used to be the biggest fest of the year. Here are 5 interesting facts about the Finnish Kekri celebration!

1. Long traditions

Long before All Saint’s Day and the commercial Halloween, people used to celebrate the harvest season in many countries. In Finland the agricultural traditions were strong, and the Kekri fest has roots even back to Iron Age over 2 000 years ago!

2. “Kekri” refers to the remnant of harvest time

The word kekri comes from an old fenno-ugrian word kekra, kekraj which means cycle. Back in the old times it was natural to end a year connected to the earth and harvest, so while people celebrated the harvest it was also an ending of the year fest!

3. Trick or treat!

The Kekripukki, Kekri goat, was a creature with horns. Young people used to dress up as a Kekripukki with a fur coat worn upside-down and walk from house to house asking for feasting or beer. If a household would refuse they used to threat by breaking the oven. Sounds like trick or treating old school, huh? Today it is common to burn the Kekri goat made from straws during the harvest fest!

An interesting fact is that the Kekri goat was actually the origin to Santa Claus! Yup, you heard that right.

4. Ghosts go to sauna too

Sauna is probably the most Finnish thing on earth and its history goes way back. Löyly means the steam that rises from the stove or heat of the sauna. In Finnish mythology it also refers to the soul of the body, and sauna was thought to have strong connections to the underworld. During the harvest season it was also thought to be the time when the spirits and souls of the people who had passed came back for a visit. Sauna was offered to those spirits before any living person was allowed to go to there, and it was prepared with towels, water, soap and everything a living person would need.

After bathing it was time for a feast. The house folk left a table full of food and drink and went to sauna themselves to leave space and peace for spirits to enjoy the meal.

5. Jack O’ Turnip

Everybody knows the traditional pumpkin lantern from America, but also in Finland we had something similar. During the Kekri fest it was common to carve a turnip and put a small candle inside. Pumpkins were not known in Europe before the colonialism.

 

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 does it feel when the temperature is below -30C?

There is only one way to describe it: it feels cold, at first, but then after you’re getting warmer you realize it becomes the thing you’ve been missing your whole life.

After ten hour drive we finally reach our destination at the edge of the Pallas-Yllästunturi national park. The latter hours of driving were battling against the freezing windshield, because when the temperature drops below -25C heaters can’t keep up with the cold any longer. After getting out of the vehicle the freezing windshield was the least of our worries.

We had selected our cabin carefully so we knew that after a long day we didn’t have to hike for too long. Our cabin was only about half a mile away from the closest road. We were happily surprised when we noticed that the path leading to the cabin was clear and we didn’t have to walk across the snow. There was already half a meter of snow on the ground even it was only a December. It was full moon so we decided to save batteries of our headlights for later and started our walk at the moonlight.

mokki-3

The walk to the cabin made us warm and even to sweat a bit so it was crucial to get the fire going as quickly as possible after getting over the cabin. We got lucky again since there had been somebody at the cabin few days earlier. We got nearly 20 degrees advantage comparing to the air outside as the cabin thermometer showed only -10 degrees of celsius. Even though it was only -10C inside it felt immediately warm after being outside. 

Third time we got lucky happened just when we were about to go back outside to make some firewood. The unwritten rule of these deserted cabins says that leave some firewood ready for the next one: Next to the fireplace were laying two stacks of nicely chopped firewood with some smaller ones on the top piles ready to get the fire going. We sure appreciated that this time. 

mokki

After few hours of working hard we finally got some time to rest. There was enough firewood to support the fire over night, candles were setting the mood just right and we got our bellies full of warm soup. Outside the cabin you were able to enjoy some subtle hints of auroras and watch how the moon light the fells around us. The only sound was cold which got the trees cracking. Inside it was getting warm enough to sleep in our sleeping bags as the fireplace next to us gently hummed us to sleep.

mokki-2

Tonight we had cut our firewood to heat up the cabin, we had made a hole in the ice from where we got water, we had heated the water over the fire and made some soup to eat. We did it all ourselves and after all that work in the cold when you’re feeling warm and cozy you can really feel what you have done. And you realize that those are all the things that matter: being warm and full and surrounded by your friends.