All you need to know about the northern lights!

Last Updated on by Charlotte van de Sande

The northern lights, also called polar lights or aurora borealis, are one of the main reasons for us to come to Lapland. With help from to Thomas, who read everything there is about this natural phenomenon, I will tell you in this blog about the northern lights, I will give useful tips and I will tell about the aurora chasing by snowshoes that we did with Polar Creek.


Four out of four nights: Aurora!

Yes, we are lucky bastards: all four nights in Finnish Lapland, we have seen the northern lights. Immediately the first evening we were surprised by the dancing green clouds of the aurora borealis. That first time was unforgettable, we were shouting outside in the snow. The lights were also visible on the second and third evening, but less clear than before. On our last evening, it was most spectacular. We had planned an aurora chasing snowshoeing tour with Andrej from Polar Creek. It was amazing and we spend hours photographing the beautiful pool lights! More about that later, first I will answer the question: What are the northern lights?

What are the northern lights?

The northern lights are natural phenomena best visible on the poles. At the north pole these are called the northern lights, also called the aurora borealis, at the south pole these are the southern lights, the aurora australis. Northern lights are created by electrically charged particles (ions) of the sun, being thrown into space (solar wind). The moment these charged particles are collected via the magnetic field lines of the earth, they are directed towards the two poles. The charged particles will then enter the atmosphere, where they collide with oxygen atoms and nitrogen molecules. This collision causes an electron transfer: from the ions to the oxygen atoms and nitrogen molecules. Because these are now out of balance, they try to neutralize the energy in the form of electrons. They do this by emitting light: the polar lights. This energy is also called geomagnetic activity.

When do you see the northern lights best?

The northern lights are always present, to a greater or lesser extent. However, you cannot always see them. The degree of presence of geomagnetic activity is indicated by the KP index. This is a scale of 0-9 where zero indicates very little geomagnetic activity and nine indicates very much. You can see the lights between two and three. From four onwards, the polar lights really get a lot stronger. Unfortunately, this does not mean that you actually see the northern lights. Since there may be clouds, or you are too far away from the poles.Giellajohka northern light

These conditions increase the chances of seeing the northern lights:

1. A high latitude

In exceptional cases, you can see the northern lights even in the Netherlands, on Texel, but in general, it is visible from latitude 66. This means that you have to sit as northerly as possible. We were in the area of Saariselkä, Ivalo and Inari, in Finland, a very northern part of Lapland. Here the chances to see the northern lights are quite high!
Did you know: that in Finnish Lapland the northern lights can be seen for up to 200 nights a year?

2. No clouds

A second condition to see the northern lights is that it is clear, without clouds. If it snows a lot, you know that chances to see the Aurora Borealis are small.
Tip: we had a car in Lapland. Very handy when there were some local clouds, we got in the car and drove to a place a few kilometres away, where there were no clouds!

3. No light pollution

If you are close to civilization, a big city or a lit factory, the chances are smaller that you will see the northern lights. The best condition to see the northern lights, is in an environment in which it’s very dark. A full moon also throws a spanner in the works! It even seems that the northern lights can be seen better when no snow has fallen. Light reflects off the white snow, causing more light pollution.
Tip: do you want to see the northern lights? Before booking, take a look at the position of the moon. With a new moon, the chance is bigger than you will see the northern lights.

4. Autumn and winter

Even though the polar lights are present all year round, in the autumn and winter the ions that cause the northern lights are stronger. In addition, the sun hardly sets during summer in Lapland, so it is not dark enough to see the northern lights.
Tip: we used the Aurora app. This indicates for your location when the chance is biggest. In addition, we used the WeatherPro app to accurately monitor the possible cloud cover.


Aurora Chasing by snowshoes with Polar Creek

On our last evening in Lapland, we are invited to join Andrey from Polar Creek for a snowshoeing adventure while chasing the Aurora. Well, the chasing part isn’t that hard with a KP index higher than four, the northern lights are dancing very clearly in the sky. Andrey takes us and two other people to a hill just outside Saariselkä, from where you have a good view of the northern horizon. He says that the latter is very important, especially when the KP is under four. On photos, the polar light always seems to be above the photographer, in reality, it often starts at the northern horizon. After we have put on our snowshoes, we walk a bit into the snow. There are a few other tourists, but we keep our distance. Their lights can cause light pollution on our view or photos. Andrey knows exactly where a quiet place is and there we turn off our lights and start looking at the northern horizon.Northern Lights

Bright green lights, cookies and warm blueberry juice.

And indeed, we first see a faint grey-green stripe, which soon becomes a lot brighter. In no time the sky seems to be on fire by green purple flames. It is really spectacular: we don’t know where to look because the path of green light now runs completely from one horizon to the other. If I look to the right, I see the light dancing there, but at the same time, I want to look to the left because I also hear Christine shouting that purple lights can also be seen there. And so it keeps on changing. Sometimes it’s very fierce for a few seconds or even a few minutes, then a bit quieter again.

Meanwhile, Andrey brings cookies and warm blueberry juice to stay warm, it is 26 degrees below zero outside. Ries and Thomas, completely in their own world, are taking hundreds of pictures of this natural phenomenon. Andrey also has a camera and takes some pictures of the other two tourists. He has a very handy trick, which we don’t know yet: by putting on your flashlight very briefly (less than 1 second) while taking a photo (shutter speed between 8-16 sec), you illuminate the person in the photo while also capturing the northern lights. A very cool effect!budget of a trip through Lapland

Polar Creek: small groups and a lot of attention.

After a while, we walk on, towards a forest. Here the snow is already a lot deeper, you can easily sink half a meter away, the snowshoes come in handy! While walking, Andrey tells how he ended up in Saariselka. He is Russian, just like Maria, his wife with whom he runs Polar Creek. A few years ago they were here on vacation. They loved it so much that they simply decided to stay. And so Polar Creek was born: a small company with personal contact where the experience of visitors is central. Andrey indicates that he prefers to work with small groups, so he has the attention for everyone and he can help people with photographing the northern lights.

Two and a half hours later, the northern lights still dance in the sky just as brightly. We could keep looking for hours, but unfortunately, our hands and feet contradict that. When we walk back to the parking lot on the hill, we are surprised by hundreds of tourists standing on top of it. They are all trying to see and capture the northern lights. Everywhere we see bright flashlights, cell phones and lights from the buses that drive on and of. Such a contrast with the peace and quietness that Andrey has just taken us to. Tired but satisfied, we drive back to Giellajohka, the cabin where we are staying. What a great experience this was!Northern Lights

Practical information about this aurora chasing by snowshoes!

We did this northern lights snowshoeing trip with Polar Creek, an organization in Saariselkä that I can highly recommend to you! Andrey takes you in a small group (max. 8 people) for a snowshoeing walk of 2-kilometres long. This is an easy activity for which you do not need to be trained. You spend around 2.5 hours (a part of which you will stand still and part of which you will walk). Andrey can pick you up at your hotel.

What to wear for snowshoeing and aurora chasing?

We wore our own normal outerwear consisting of thermo layers, ski jackets and pants, scarves, socks, hats and gloves. We also put on headlamps. If you don’t have this stuff, you can borrow it all at Polar Creek. We did borrow special socks and shoes from Polar Creek. You will get snowshoes and walking sticks at the location. We also had our own camera equipment and tripods with us.

Finally, an indispensable tip: heat packs! We bought these heat packs from Decathlon and put them in our gloves. This way our hands stayed warm for hours.

What does this northern light snowshoeing trip cost?

The snowshoeing trip that we did, cost € 65 per person. This includes all gear, transport and drinks. There are also other snowshoeing trips or activities to book at Polar Creek. For more information, visit Polarcreek.fi or sent an e-mail to Andrey and Maria via info@polarcreek.fi.

Polar Creek, Andrey en Maria
Kelotie 1 (Siula building), Saariselkä
+358 40 683 98 04


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* We were invited by Polar Creek, however, everything above is true to me, as always I reflect my own opinion and experience.

**Credits of photography: both Thomas Kroon and Ries made the pictures for this blog. For contact details from Thomas, sent me a message.

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1 Comment

  1. by Sartenada on 7 April 2019  07:58 Reply

    Gorgeous pics. Thank You sharing this post with us.

    Happy and safe travels!

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