Northern Lights - Aurora Borealis FAQ (2024)

Northern Lights - Aurora Borealis FAQ (1)

Check out our guide with the most popular questions about the incredible aurora borealis.

FAQ: When, where and how to see the Northern Lights

The aurora borealis is most commonly seen in the Polar Regions, within a radius of 1,553 miles (2,500 km) around the magnetic poles. This area is known as the Auroral Zone or the Auroral Oval.

For theNorthern Lights, the further north you travel, the more likely you are to catch a glimpse of them. The best place to go aurora hunting is above the Arctic Circle (66°33’N), which is whynorthern Norway and the Svalbard archipelagoare some of the top places on earth to see the Northern Lights.

Hurtigruten sails directly beneath the Auroral Zone in northern Norway, which is an area ofconsistent auroral activity. Of the34 portswe visit from Bergen to Kirkenes,22 are north of the Arctic Circle, giving you plenty of opportunity to see the world’s greatest lightshow.

Being at sea is an added bonus as it avoids the artificial ambient light common on land, meaning the Northern Lights will bebrighter and more vivid.

The Northern Lights are actually present in Norway for much of the year, but it’s in fall and winter from September to March when the Arctic sky is dark enough for the aurora to be visible in the right conditions, with the odd appearance early in spring.

The Northern Lights most commonly appearbetween 5 pm and 2 am. They don’t usually exhibit for long – they may only show for a few minutes, then glide away before returning. A good display may last for no longer than 15-30 minutes at a time, although if you’re really lucky, it could extend to a couple of hours or longer.

Come summer, there aren’t enough hours of darkness to see the Northern Lights. Instead, the Midnight Sun reigns for 24 hours from June to August above the Arctic Circle, not giving the Northern Lights a chance to shine through.

Every night is different and a lot depends on cloud cover alongside other factors. As our ships sail directly beneath the Auroral Zone, it’s possible to see the lights more than once a night and even several times on our12-day Classic Voyage.

The aurora often occur for a few glorious minutes at a time. A good display may last between 15 and 30 minutes, although if you’re really lucky, it could extend to a couple of hours or longer.

To see the Northern Lights, the sky needs to be dark and clear of any clouds. Some people claim the aurora comes out when temperatures are colder, but this isn’t the case – it’s just that when the skies are cloudless, temperatures tend to drop.

Although there is no 100% guarantee, the chances of seeing the Northern Lights on avoyage with Hurtigrutenbetween October and March are very, very good. Being in the right place at the right time helps (i.e. northern Norway in winter), which is why we feel confident enough to offer our uniqueNorthern Lights Promise.

But there are forecasts available. The Kp Index is generally considered the most accurate – it’s much more reliable than the weather forecast. The forecast corresponds to the planetary magnetic index on a scale of one to nine, with one being very low activity and nine very high.

The Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska has anexcellent website, which allows you to view predicted activity in all auroral regions. You can also sign up for Northern Lights forecast email alerts that tell you when activity rises above four to five on the Kp scale.

There are a few basic principles to consider when it comes to capturing the Northern Lights, from having the right equipment to making sure your camera is steady enough to capture the magical lightshow above.

But we’ve seen the lights every year since 1890, so here are our expert tips on how best to shoot the aurora.

FAQ: The science behind the Northern Lights

The light show we see from the ground is caused byelectrically charged particlesfrom space entering the Earth’s upper atmosphere at a very high speed.

Yes and no. The Solar Cycle refers to the number of sunspots present on the surface of the Sun. This cycle lasts somewhere between 11 and 15 years. When the Sun is at its most active and producing a lot of sunspots, it is referred to as the Solar Maximum, and when the number of sunspots are at the lowest, it’s called the Solar Minimum.

The Northern Lights becomemore active and intensearound Solar Maximum and in the three to four years immediately following the peak. During this time, the Northern Lights may be visible further south than usual, due to the increased number of electrically charged particles reaching the Earth.

However, the aurora that normally occur around the poles do not depend on sunspot activity at all. So, while it is true that sunspots affect the lights, thisdoesn’t apply to locations under the Auroral Ovals.

Dogs will often look at the sky and bark during an auroral display, which suggests that other animals are also aware of them. Although we can’t be certain, it is well documented that there are things which animals can sense that humans can’t. It’s possible that some animals may be able to sense the natural disturbance caused by an active aurora.

It depends on how intense the auroral display is. Moonlight will affect visibility if the aurora is faint – bright moonlight will make it harder to see or not visible at all. If you want to see how a full display develops, it’s best to go around the time of the new moon.

However, if there is a bright aurora, you will be able to see it even in full moonlight.

There are records of people who live under the Northern Lights, particularly Inuit communities, who claim they have heard the aurora make a sound. There are scientific theories that a form of electrical discharge from the Northern Lights could produce sound audible to humans, but this has yet to be proven.

Audio recordings of the Northern Lights have been attempted but, to date, these haven’t picked anything up. This may be due to the fact that sound doesn’t travel at the same speed as light. The aurora occurs 62 miles (100 km) up in the sky, so anything making a sound would also need to be moving at or near to the speed of light; otherwise, it would occur so long after the event that you wouldn’t connect the two.

The Northern Lights and the Southern Lights are mirror images of each other. During the summer in the Arctic Circle, when the aurora borealis isn’t visible, it is winter inAntarcticaso the aurora australis will be visible, and vice versa.

The Northern Lights tend to be better known because the Arctic is more accessible and there is more to see and do in the region. During winter, the Antarctic continent becomes surrounded with thick, floating pack ice, making it almost impossible to get there. In contrast,the Norwegian coast, Alaska, northern Canada, Southern Greenland, Iceland, and the far north of Scandinavia and Russia are all populated areas with plenty of opportunities for visitors wishing to experience the Northern Lights.

Both the Northern Lights and the Southern Lights are visible from space. Astronauts on the International Space Station get a view of both auroras as they travel around the globe.

But the view from space is much less variable than it is from Earth. From the ground, the auroral structures grow in the sky and change form depending on your distance from them, meaning there is much more variety.

There are auroral emissions on Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and, we believe, Uranus and Neptune as well. The auroras on Jupiter and Saturn produce emissions in ultraviolet and infrared, which are not visible to the naked eye, but specialist cameras are able to capture them. There may be visible auroras as well, but they wouldn't look anything like those on Earth.

The aurora on Mars is completely different to that of other planets. Unlike Earth, Mars does not have a global magnetic field. As an aurora is dependent on a planet’s magnetic field, the aurora on Mars does not appear as rings like we see from earth. The aurora on Mars occurs only in certain places where there are magnetic rocks on the surface, and it’s much more localized.

The Northern Lights occur so high up in the atmosphere that they don’t pose any threat to people watching them from the ground.

The aurora itself is not harmful to humans but the electrically charged particles produced could have some potentially negative effects to infrastructure and technology. The particles produce an electrical current that reaches the ground which, in very extreme circ*mstances, could affect electric power lines, oil and gas pipelines, computer networks, and iCloud systems.

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