Hunting the Aurora Borealis: An Expedition to Arctic Sweden and Finland
In February of 2012, I travelled up to Abisko in Sweden’s far north in search of the Northern Lights. It’s a beautiful little town located in the Arctic circle, surrounded by breathtaking scenery, mountains, and frozen lakes as far as the eye can see. Nestled in the small town of Abisko is the Abisko Mountain Lodge – my home for the next six days.
I can’t say enough good things about the Abisko Mountain Lodge – the atmosphere was warm and welcoming, the food simply out of this world, and of course the friendly resident Bernese mountain dogs (whom I shall miss seeing every afternoon) are there to greet you when you arrive. I really couldn’t have found myself a more perfect base for my Aurora hunting. The stunning scenery only a few footsteps away, the great food, and of course the prospect of seeing incredible Aurora Borealis displays right outside the lodge made this a heavenly location. The lodge owners, Mina and Dick, were ever helpful and really were the best hosts one could wish for.
For someone who has hunted the Aurora on countless occasions, I can’t express how utterly fantastic it is to be able to simply step outside at a moment’s notice, with no light pollution whatsoever, to see the Aurora lighting up the night sky. I’ve got to say, you’re a little more dependent on some good luck for clear skies, but it beats driving around in a car looking for dark spots and it certainly extends the amount of time where you could potentially be viewing the Northern Lights since you could literally step outside your room at 3am in an instant to witness the Aurora above.
In terms of my Aurora viewing prospects, things initially looked rather bleak. I’d been monitoring the Sun for sunspots during the weeks preceding this trip, and wasn’t too happy with the activity levels! There were no significant incoming CME’s (Coronal Mass Ejections). Fortunately, the Solar Wind was consistent and strong, and coupled with several occurrences of a southward Bz tilt, we were blessed with several nights of Aurora displays, one of which was a real whopper!
I have seen fantastic displays that lasted longer than this, but what we were lucky enough to see was just as beautiful in terms of colour and vibrancy. Green bands pulsated and danced in curtain formations across the starry sky, and then violets and blues appeared overhead in coronas so immense and violent you wanted nothing more than to slow down time so as not to miss a single detail! What made the whole thing even more breathtaking was the Aurora’s seemingly intuitive dancing away from the incoming ominous clouds, as if such a grand force of nature had any sense of awareness or compassion for the insignificant beings beneath her cheering her on! It was just spectacular – a display and night that I will never forget.
I came to the end of my wonderful stay at Abisko, and amazingly I had another 5 days to go! From Abisko in Sweden, I flew to Ivalo in Finland to meet up with Andy Keen from Aurora Hunters where I was to help out with Northern Lights tours for five days.
Upon my arrival at Ivalo airport, there was already an Aurora band directly overhead which was a promising sign for the days to come! I stayed at the Hotel Ivalo, a lovely, no-frills hotel with clean rooms and pretty good food. Best of all, Hotel Ivalo’s setting was just perfect, with a frozen river directly behind the hotel providing the perfect setting for afternoon walks and as I would later discover, for Aurora Borealis viewing as well.
The following night was a little quiet and although we waited and waited, the Aurora did not make an appearance. Despite the quiet skies, there was an incident involving a bag of nuts and raisins and a certain messy vegetarian who left her mark on our means of transportation, providing much more entertainment than one might normally have on an uneventful evening.
There was news of an incoming M class solar flare so we remained hopeful for some activity the following night and were treated to some lovely Auroras on a bridge over the Paatsjoki River in the Nellim region. It carried on for over two hours after which the clouds rolled in and the Aurora began to diminish; once again it was as if she decided to dwindle away into the peaceful night as soon as the clouds arrived.
My final night there was initially supposed to be a simple day of rest, packing, and organising myself for my travels back home the next day. However, I’d been monitoring solarham.com throughout the day and it looked as if more Aurora activity might materialize that night. My plan was to find a nice dark spot close to the hotel as I had no transportation. I came to discover that people were using frozen river directly behind Hotel Ivalo for viewing the Aurora. The light from the hotel was negligable and even the full moon couldn’t compete with the amazing Aurora that night. It wasn’t a long display but it was filled with sporadic outbursts of intenses Auroras. What was amazing was how friendly and sociable everyone became with complete strangers, most of whom were jumping around with joy, laughing, or on the verge of tears even!
I could not have asked for a more perfect ending to the trip. I departed the next morning extremely happy at what I’d seen over the previous two weeks, knowing it would be hard to top the beautiful Aurora displays I had seen. At the end of February of this year, I head back to Abisko, Sweden to continue my exploration of the area. I’m hoping to produce a time lapse video while there that will faithfully and accurately show the beauty of the Northern Lights as they dance across the sky.
A web developer from Gibraltar, Natalia Robba is crazy about photography and the Aurora Borealis. Specializing in landscape and Northern Lights photography, she loves to travel the world in search of natural beauty, often in the colder northern regions where snow peaked mountains and the dancing Aurora in the night skies make for perfect subjects.