Chasing the Northern lights (Aurora Borealis)

The majestic northern lights in Utsjoki

Aurora Borealis is the phenomenon where the solar winds hit the earth’s atmosphere with high speed, lose their energy and emit lights in the sky of varying colour, intensity and complexity.

Light painting while watching Aurora in Utsjoki
Light painting while watching Aurora in Utsjoki

OK, I may not be absolutely scientifically correct in my definition there, but that is the gist of it that I understand anyway. It only happens on high latitudes (arctic and antarctic) regions and it is very very unpredictable. The lights can come and go in the blink of an eye or they can dance around the sky for hours, sometime from dusk till dawn (if you are very very lucky!) During ancient times, northern lights were assumed to be polar spirits, and attained god like status. The name Aurora Borealis comes from the Roman goddess of dawn – Aurora.

Dancing Aurora Borealis on our cottage in Utsjoki
Dancing Aurora Borealis on our cottage in Utsjoki

These days, aurora chasing is a hobby and there are avid aurora chasers in the world whose life’s mission is to see and document as many auroras as they possibly can. We had the pleasure of having two such avid chasers as our guides 🙂 – Tiina and Emilia. Most people who have lived above the arctic circle all their life and seen this phenomenon occur countless times tend to dismiss it as magical no more, but it takes a certain kind of person to keep getting excited about every light show as if it was their first. Because it is, for lack of a more apt word, truly magical and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

We were very very nervous and apprehensive when we arrived in Utsjoki about our chances to be able to witness this majestical natural phenomenon. We were not sure how to manage our own expectations and how we would deal with the fact of not being able to see any northern lights after travelling so far, if it came to that. There is this website which contains live feeds from cameras installed all over lapland, so that you can see if there are any northern lights coming your way. We did not see any activity on our first night there and by the second night we were really tightly wound up. We were staring at the webcams all day long and looking at weather forecasts and aurora forecasts and hadn’t eaten much all day.

Tiina dropped us off after village tour, with the promise to come back after dinner and advised to eat and rest becase we might be up till late night waiting for the lights. We might even drive around if the weather was still cloudy as it had been all day to find less cloudy places. It was when I was cooking, that we decided that we should get out and try our luck looking at the sky instead of waiting to see something on the camera several hundres kilometers away. I got ready first and stepped out, while Shilp was still getting his camera ready and THAT’S when i saw them! I wasn’t sure if it was real or my eyes were deceiving me and it wasn’t until a few seconds later when I saw the green lights on the horizon dancing and spreading that I screamed!

We fall on the frozen Teno blown away by the lights in the sky
We fall on the frozen Teno blown away by the lights in the sky

I yelled at Shilp to just leave the camera behind and come out! I was afraid it was gonna go and he would miss it. I remember running around the cottage (wearing 5 layers of clothes) to make sure I dont miss any of it and jumping around in the snow unable to contain the pure joy and excitement bubbling up at that moment. The mission was successful! We hugged and kissed and danced around overjoyed at our good luck. The sky had cleared, not a cloud to be seen, the night was just beginning and the lights were dancing 10 minutes later! They were here to stay 🙂

Somewhere in between i managed to message Tiina telling her the lights were here only to be admonished. “So Get out! Dont waste time messaging me!”, she replied but i had already ran out till then. They arrived laden with their own cameras and tripods and lot of supplies for a bonfire and set everything up. By the time they had started the bonfire and were warming the berry soup, I was frozen to my bone and the fire was a welcome respite from the cold.

We grilled sausages on the fire in the gazebo and they taught us how to roast a perfect marshmallow and we ate and drank hot soup and coffee. And kept running in and out whenever the lights came.

Grilling reindeer sausages in the gazebo
Grilling reindeer sausages in the gazebo

Somewhere along the night, I went inside the cottage to warm up taking off some of my layers to melt the snow off of them. That’s when I heard people screaming my name from outside. I ran out in my socks and thermals right onto the snow, to see a PINK aurora borealis in the sky for 3 seconds before it disappeared. I could not believe my eyes! Was that really what I saw? Everyone else was some distance away from the cottages at the river bank and I got dressed and ran up to them to confirm. They were worried I had missed the first PINK lights in over a month! But I hadn’t 😀

After that we saw the northern lights every night of our stay and we didn’t even have to drive anywhere. We sat in our nice cozy little gazebo with a fire in the middle roasting marshmallows and grilling sausages and having hot chocolate, telling stories and keeping an eye out to not miss the lady aurora.

Sitting by the fire in the gazebo with hot chocolate
Sitting by the fire in the gazebo with hot chocolate

Our last night there, which was the most cloudy night of our stay there, we thought we might not see anything. But mother nature was good to us and we did see a light show through the clouds 🙂 And another pink one that day too!

Watching Northern lights through the cloud cover
Watching Northern lights through the cloud cover

Pink aurora are quite rare and last merely for seconds. Most of them are green as seen from the naked eye. There is also red aurora but that is very very rare and only seen very close to the poles. Oh well! You gotta leave something for the next time! 😀