One of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Northern Lights are something so spectacular they captivate audiences around the world with their unparalleled beauty and mystery. When I spent my semester abroad in Finland it was one thing I definitely wanted to see! Finland is so far north compared to where I live in Canada so I thought for sure it would be easy, but not so!
Once late October rolled around and the intensity of the Northern Lights increased, it became a daily ritual to check the Aurora Forecast Website to see how strong the current solar activity was. On any given day, if the forecast was strong enough that the lights were to reach southern Finland, our whole floor where we were staying in Turku, Finland would rush outside to try to catch a glimpse of the mysterious lights. We would even go so far as to climb three floors up on to the roof of our building or get on our bikes and bike to a darker area on the outskirts of town where the increased darkness might provide for a better view of the lights. Unfortunately it was often cloudy in Finland so even if the lights were going on right above us, we would never see them. It was disappointing to say the least.
There was a trip through the Uni up to the Finnish Lapland (Arctic) in the first week of November. We signed up for this also hoping we could see the lights as part of that trip! Being in Northern Finland, it seemed like it would be a sure thing that we would finally see the lights. Unfortunately again it was not so easy.
We continued to check the Aurora forecast every night, although we did not need to because being so far north we were in the heart of the Northern Lights activity. We went outside every night but continued to see nothing! We were staying in the Arctic town of Saariselkä, Finland but just like it was back in Turku, it seemed to be cloudy every night. What a let down this was turning out to be! Before we arrived in Saariselkä my friend I was also traveling with said he really wanted to see the even more mysterious pink lights because like the rest of us he was under the impression that seeing the ordinary green lights would be a common occurrence. After a couple days in to the trip he changed his tone and said he would settle for just seeing any lights at this point because our time in the north was running out.
Our first night in Saariselkä, our entire cabin even hiked up a ski hill in to the middle of nowhere so we could get away from the light of the town in the hopes of seeing the lights. Unfortunately, like always it didn’t happen.
Finally our luck began to change when we were visiting a reindeer farm outside Saariselkä one evening. We were sitting inside a large hut having dinner around a fire listening to a man recite us stories about the reindeer. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the owner of the farm comes in, pauses for a couple minutes and then calmly interrupts and very nonchalantly says “oh by the way there are Northern Lights outside”. WHAT!!!! Everyone erupted in excitement and we all barged for the door in a hurried rush of excitement.
Getting outside, surrounded by complete darkness except for a few phones and cameras as people tried to get pictures, we could finally see the green hue of the Northern Lights above us! It was not a massive light show by any means but it was green and beautiful and unreal! We finally did it! We finally saw them! The lights we saw were the ones in the image at the top of this page.
One thing I should mention to those reading this, the Northern Lights are often not like what you see in the pictures unless it is a really intense light show. Even the lights we saw were not as strong or intense as what the picture above shows. This is because our eyes cannot capture as much light as many of the higher end cameras that are used to take such pictures. For example, the lights we saw that night, in comparison to the picture above, were not as intense as that picture nor did it have as well defined of a streak in the middle. The show we actually witnessed had an intensity somewhere between the picture at the top of this post and these two images above. However this does not take away from the breathtaking beauty that is the lights and the fact that so few people in the world are ever even fortunate enough to even see them at all.
The tour company we were with – Aikamatkat Oy -Timetravels Ltd, was really awesome as well in their efforts for us to see the lights. They even arranged a couple of buses one night to take everyone a few km outside of town where it was completely dark and the cloud cover was minimal in hopes of catching another glimpse of the lights. It was worth the effort because we did manage to see some faint green lights! It was not nearly as strong as the night at the reindeer farm but for those who missed it at the farm, this was an opportunity to see the majestic lights as well!
Another thing with the lights that I never knew before is that they don’t usually just shine bright in the sky all night or for hours at a time. They come and go, sometimes within minutes. One second it could be very bright and the next it could be like someone switched off the lights and they fade away to nothing. The light show we saw at the reindeer farm only lasted about 10 minutes before fading away so combined with the sporadic nature of the lights, cloud cover and the length at which any given light show might last, actually seeing this natural wonder of the world can be VERY difficult.
After returning to southern Finland I never did manage to see the lights again but here’s hoping for another trip back to the northern most regions of the world one day to see them again and maybe even their pink counterparts. If you ever plan on making a trip somewhere to see the lights choose a location and time of year when the lights are at their strongest and if possible, choose a time (such as dry season) when there may not be as much precipitation and chance of cloud cover. Use the Aurora forecast website to check intensity and best of luck on your own adventures to try and catch a glimpse of one of the most beautiful and mysterious wonders that nature and our planet have to offer!