Northern lights: frequently asked questions and answers

Here you can find our Aurora Borealis handbook with frequently asked questions and answers, runt around the topic Northern Lights!

Where can I see northern lights?

The Aurora Borealis is best seen in the polar region, in a radius of 2.500 kilometers around the magnetic poles. This area is known as the aurora zone or the aurora oval. For the Northern Lights, the further north you go, the more likely you are to experience the aurora. Üabove the Arctic Circle (66°33’N) is the best place to hunt the aurora. That’s why Norway and Spitsbergen are considered The best places in the world to see the Northern Lights.

When can I see northern lights?

Technically, the northern lights are present almost all year round. But there is not enough eclipse to see in the summer, not even above the Arctic Circle. Winter lasts in the Arctic from End of September until late March or the early april. During this time the polar sky is dark enough that from the right position you can see the northern lights. The aurora is most active around the equinoxes, in March and September.

Usually, the Northern Lights appear between 17 o’clock and 2 o’clock in the morning. They rarely show themselves for long- often it lasts only a few minutes, then they disappear, only to return later. A good apparition may last only 15 to 30 minutes. But if you are lucky, it may last up to a few hours or longer.

To be able to see the northern lights, the sky dark and free of clouds its. Some say the aurora appear when the temperatures are colder. But this is a mistake. It’s just that when the sky is cloudless, temperatures drop.

How to know that the northern lights will appear?

Unfortunately, there is no hundred percent certainty that you will see the northern lights. But it is helpful to be at the right place at the right time, z. B. in Norway in winter. That’s why Hurtigruten offers the unique Northern Lights Promise* with a clear conscience.

But there are also predictions. The Kp index is generally considered to be very reliable- much more reliable than the weather forecast. This prediction corresponds to planetary magnetic index on a scale of one to nine, where one means little activity and nine means high activity. The Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska has an excellent website where you can get all the predicted activity in all the aurora regions. You can also sign up for northern lights predictions via email alerts. Then you will know by email alert when the activity is above four to five on the Kp scale.

Do sunspots influence the northern lights??

Yes and no. The sunspot cycle refers to the number of sunspots present on the surface of the sun. This cycle takes about 11 to 15 years. When the sun has the highest activity and produces a lot of sunspots, this is called solar maximum. When the number of sunspots is at its lowest point, it is called solar minimum.

The northern lights will more active and intense around solar maximum around and in the three to four following years. During this time, the northern lights may also be seen farther south than usual, as more electrically charged particles reach the earth. The polar auroras, however, do not depend on sunspot activity at all. While it is true that sunspots affect the lights, this is not true for locations that lie below the aurora ovals.

Do the northern lights have an influence on animal life??

Dogs are often observed looking up at the sky and barking during an aurora occurrence. This suggests that other animals are aware of it as well. Although one cannot be sure, it is well documented that there are things that animals perceive and humans do not. In this respect it is conceivable that some animals are able to feel the natural restlessness caused by an active aurora.

Northern lights in Lofoten
Northern lights in Lofoten

Can northern lights be heard?

There are people who live among the northern lights, most notably the Inuit tribes, who claim to have heard the aurora make sounds. It appears unlikely, because sound does not move with the same speed as light. The aurora originates 100 kilometers above the earth in the sky; thus, a sound would have to propagate at the speed of light; otherwise, it would occur so long after the optical event that the two would not be associated with each other. Sound recordings of northern lights were attempted, but no sounds could be recorded until today.

However, from a scientific point of view nothing impossible. There are theories that the electrical discharge from the northern lights can produce sounds that can be heard by human hearing. But so far this is not proven.

Does moonlight affect the northern lights?

It depends on how intense the aurora appearance is. Moonlight obstructs vision, when the aurora is faint – bright moonlight makes it harder to see, or even prevents seeing altogether. If you want to see a full apparition, it is best to go there around the time of the new moon.

Are northern lights and southern lights the same??

The Northern and the southern lights are mirror images of each other. During the summer in the Arctic Circle, when you can’t see the Northern Lights, it’s winter in Antarctica, so the Aurora Australis is visible, and vice versa.

The northern lights are more popular with tourists because they are easier to get to, the area is more inviting, and there is more to experience. in winter Antarctica is surrounded by thick floating pack ice that makes it almost impossible to get there. In turn, the Norwegian coast, Alaska, northern Canada, southern Greenland, Iceland, and the far north of Scandinavia and Russia are inhabited areas with diverse offerings for tourists who want to experience the Northern Lights.

Can you see the northern lights from space?

Both the Both northern and southern auroras are visible from space. Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) have a good view of both auroras as they fly around the globe. But the view from space is much less versatile than from Earth. Seen from Earth, the structure of the aurora grows in the sky and changes shape depending on how far away you are from it. There is a much greater variety of auroras from ground view than from space.

Are there auroras on other planets?

There are aurora ejections on Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and, we believe, Uranus and Neptune. The auroras of Jupiter and Saturn produce bursts of ultraviolet and infrared light, which is not visible to the naked eye, but can be detected by special cameras. Possibly there are also visible auroras, but they look quite different from those on Earth.

Mars also has an aurora, but completely different from those of the other planets. Unlike the Earth, Mars does not have an extensive magnetic field. Since an aurora depends on the magnetic field of the planet, the aurora of Mars does not appear in the form of rings, as we see it on Earth. Also, the aurora on Mars only appears in certain places where magnetic rocks are found on the surface. In this respect, the phenomenon is more clearly localized.

Are northern lights dangerous to humans?

The Northern Lights originate so far up in the atmosphere that viewing them for poses no threat to anyone on Earth.

The Aurora itself also poses no threat, but the electrically charged particles produced could have a potentially negative impact on infrastructures and technology. The particles create an electric current that reaches all the way to Earth. Under very extreme circumstances, these could affect power lines, oil and gas pipelines, computer networks and iCloud systems. Aircraft flying at very high altitudes could also potentially be at risk. However, hardly any planes fly at those altitudes, and the few that do don’t linger there long enough for a hazard to arise.

Source: Dr John Mason MBE

Experience the northern lights with Hurtigruten

Get unique insights and knowledge about the Arctic skies and the world’s greatest light show, the Aurora Borealis, on a journey along Norway’s fascinating coastline.

Dive into the clear Norwegian polar night and be enchanted by constellations and northern lights. Our dates are ideally coordinated with the phases of the moon and are accompanied by a German-speaking tour guide.

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