6 Things: Northern Lights in Reality

Have you ever dreamt of catching the Northern Lights? The Northern Lights (or Aurora Borealis) is a common experience on the bucket list for many and some would pay thousands to see this spectacular display of lights. Sorry to burst your fantasy bubble… but let us provide a reality check to your thousand-dollar trip so you don’t go in blind: you may not get to see it at all.


1. NOT EVERY TRIP IS A 100% HIT

Northern Lights in Reality
Should I cry or laugh?

Reason being, the Northern Lights are unpredictable. To see the Northern Lights, you need a clear and dark night. No clouds, no rain, no snow, no moon. On top of that, you need the solar flares (particles from the sun) to make love to the particles from the earth’s atmosphere. Only with ALL the right conditions will you be able to see the Northern Lights.

How are northern lights formed
There are no sure-win solutions, but what you can do is to increase your odds to win:
  • Have longer stays (we recommend about 6 to 7 days)
  • Head to the latitudes in the Arctic Circle (Finland, Sweden, Iceland, Norway)
  • Head there during winter (longer nights, hence longer hours of dark skies)
  • Avoid dates with a full moon (trust us, that ball of light will ruin everything)
  • Head to a place without light pollution (usually to the countryside or anyway away from the city)

2. YOU MAY GIVE UP BECAUSE THE WEATHER IS BEYOND COLD

Going during the winter months may give you a higher chance of catching the Northern Lights, but it also means waiting in -20°C temperatures and it might even get as cold as -40°C.

Truth about seeing the northern lights
Say hello to uncontrollable shivers, numbness, dry lips and frozen mucus. And it doesn’t stop there. The wind makes it worse by giving you 10 times more pain. You’ll do anything to avoid that piercing pain on your face, even if it means hiding behind your travel mate. So much pain that you will start wondering why you paid thousands to suffer so much.

3. YOU MIGHT HAVE TO WAIT FOR HOURS. AND HOURS. AND HOURS. 

Dear Northern Lights, why are you so unpredictable? It is no fun waiting for hours in the cold.
The Northern Lights usually appear between 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. The weather might change suddenly and you might end up waiting for hours just for the skies to clear. Sometimes, that wait can be in vain. It might even appear when you are eating. If you are staying in an ice igloo/ aurora bubble, you may end up sleeping because there is the comfort of the bed and boredom of waiting. Just be prepared to grab your camera and go at any time.
truth about seeing the northern lights
It may also be a good idea to train yourself to put on 6 layers of clothes in 1 minute

4. THE NORTHERN LIGHTS DON’T ALWAYS APPEAR IN A SPECTRUM OF COLOURS

northern lights iceland
If catching the Northern Lights isn’t hard enough, to be able to catch them in an amazing spectrum of colours is even harder. The most common colour that you will see is green (lots, and lots, of green), greenish yellow, and a bit of purple-grey. Catching the lights in pink, blue and violet and rare (even the locals we spoke to said they have not seen the rarer colours) and seeing it in red is almost close to impossible (but there have been known sightings).
Be warned though, the colours might not be as evident as you think it will be, which leads us to our next point.

5. THE REAL NORTHERN LIGHTS YOU SEE ARE NOT LIKE WHAT YOU SEE IN PHOTOS (The rawest truth behind these lights!)

Northern Lights expectations
Expectations (what your camera captures)
Okay, this is not the time to splash “LIES!” over all the Northern Lights pictures that you see. The photos you see are not fake. It just happens that the Northern lights you see with your naked eye probably only reflects 20% of what your camera is able to capture (damn these photographers). Reality is, your naked eyes are not like camera lenses – they don’t capture light as accurately and they can’t perform long exposure shots. Your brain is sadly not like Photoshop.
Northern Lights in reality
Reality (what your eyes see)

6. THEY MAY APPEAR EVERYDAY… BUT YOU CONFUSE THEM FOR CLOUDS

These elusive Northern Lights may actually appear daily during your stay in the Arctic Circle during peak seasons. However, they appear so faintly, especially in grey or light green (see point 4) that you pass them off as clouds. Yes, Earth’s natural light display can be that unimpressive.
Northern lights in real life
Lights
A trick for that, if you ever see streaks in the sky that resemble clouds but suspect are actually faint northern lights, is to use your camera (see point 5). If these streaks turn out greenish on the screen, those are faint Northern Lights. Wait around and they could likely flare up into a spectacular display.
Clouds vs Northern Lights
Clouds

Disillusioned? It’s okay *pat pat*. Let us provide you with some comfort to this harsh reality. It is precisely because Northern Lights are so difficult to catch that makes it so worthwhile and memorable when you actually do witness it, no matter which end of the spectrum is being displayed.
Just imagine braving the cold, waiting for hours, and imagine travelling a million miles and the most fascinating display of lights appear right in front of you! We promise your heart will dance along with the Northern Lights, and it will be the happiest feeling you will ever experience – cold and prior torture forgotten. They even say it may evoke tears (after all you’ve been through), but we say the best way is to celebrate it Vacay style:
coloursofthewind

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