When is the best time for witnessing the Northern Lights? They say it is from September to late April. Cold winter nights tend to provide the highest chances of seeing them. The best time to see them is around 23:00 pm (11pm) – 2:00 am. Most seekers are bundled up and out in cold weather between 22:00 pm (10pm) – 4:00 am. A lot of hotels up in Lapland will call your room and alert you if they are spotted in the night sky. I was starting to think my chances of seeing this phenomena were going to be slim to none. I have talked to many Finns that have lived here all their lives and have never witnessed them. They say you have a much better chance of seeing a shooting star.
Well this American Expat is determined to see them before exiting this country! I want to see color and lights in the dark, cold winter that seems to never end here in Finland!
There are 3 natural phenomenas and last night I got to witness one of them! The three phenomenas are the Midnight Sun, the Polar Nights and the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis). I finally got to experience the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)! The best part was that I did not have to spend many euros to go to Lapland to see them. I was able to see them inside my home in Espoo, Finland. It is quite rare to see these and actually they say it is more luck when visiting up around the Arctic Circle and to be able to say we saw them in the Helsinki area is even more rare.
We found out about a site early on in our adventures here, that will alert you when there is Northern Light activity. March 17, 2013, it became apparent that we might have an opportunity to see them in Southern Finland. We had a high forecast of a level 5. Basically a level 5 means weather permitting, highly active auroral displays will be visible overhead from Tromsø, Norway to as far south as Sundsvall, Sweden and Arkhangelsk, Russia, visible low on the horizon from Edinburgh and Valga, Estonia. On March 15, 2013, we had a solar event. Due to this event it has put us on active alert for the next day or two. This solar event interacted with the giant magnetic bubble surrounding Earth, the magnetosphere, causing a G1-class geomagnetic storm.
Here is a video model from NASA.gov of the solar event that took place on the 15th of March:
In order to see the auroral display here in Southern Finland the Kp index has to be at least 4 for Northern Lights visibility on the northern horizon, or 6 for the Northern Lights to take place directly overhead. Here is an image of the kp and what it looked like on the 17th.
March 17, 2013 – Aurora Forecast Level 5 for Europe
The first warning came in around 19:00 (7pm). The second about an hour later. This is the one that started a little buzz in the social media in Finland that the Northern Lights were being spotted in the Helsinki Area. We started looking after this and even sent a instant message to a friend out in the National Forest to see if he had spotted them and the chances of seeing them again. He did see them when that second warning was sent out. Patience was his recommendation and they tend to be earlier when spotted this far south. I was determined and pretty much planted myself at the window trying to figure out which direction was north. Pretty easy once I recalled the setting sun. Around 21:00 (9pm) another warning was issued. I started looking at this point a little more. Jumping from front and back windows of my house.
Finally, very close 22:00 (10pm) I noticed something in the sky. It seemed like a band or wave just below a star I could see in the sky. I was not sure if this was it. I was calling out to Christian to come look, but he was in the bathroom brushing his teeth and did not hear me. By the time he did hear me I could not really see the band anymore. I received this warning on my phone NUR_XYDERIV= 72(2013-03-17-20UT). So we knew we might get a chance. He continued to look out the window with me and then we started to notice it again. Christian has seen the Northern Lights before with his brother, Stephen in Lapland, Sweden. Christian confirmed what I was seeing and then we started to notice more color of faint green waves. We quickly ran outside in our pajamas in the freezing weather at least -12C. It was a little more noticeable once stepping outside and as we looked around you could see it stretching across the sky and dipping down. We even saw it at one point have what looked like wavy fingers. The entire time is kept a green tint. My thought was if we didn’t have the light pollution from street lights and Helsinki how much more vivid would they have been? I didn’t care! I was witnessing something that not many ever get to see and almost very rare to see this far south of the Arctic Circle. We both had our iPhones out not really realizing they were not going to capture what we were seeing, but they did capture my excitement with seeing them and to me was totally priceless!
Here is a clip of video darkness, but my excitement caught on video!
We were unable to get pictures, but I have found a few videos on YouTube that people were able to capture from the 17th. Here are few of my favorites.
For future information on how to capture The Northern Lights here are photography tips that I found:
BASIC EQUIPMENT: A tripod first of all, preferably used with a remote trigger so you don’t have to touch the camera. The camera should be a 35mm SLR camera with manual focus (set to “infinity”), which works well for Northern Lights photography. Digital cameras will need to have manually adjustable ISO and zoom settings.
RECOMMENDED PHOTO GEAR: Beyond the basic photography equipment, you should bring the following gear for great results: A wide-angle zoom lens, f2.8 (or lower numbers), will give great results photographing the Northern Lights. A wireless trigger is also very nice, so you don’t nudge the camera at all. If you have a prime lens (with fixed focal length) for your camera, bring it.
TAKING A PICTURE: You will not be able to take good pictures of the Northern Lights with short exposure times. Good exposure times for this are 20-40 seconds per picture (the tripod will help you eliminate shaking of the camera – you can’t hold the camera by hand.) A sample exposure time for ISO 800 film with f/2.8 would be 30 seconds.