Norway’s northern lights are truly a magical sight for all. Due to its proximity to the Auroral Oval, an area over the north pole buzzing with auroral activity, this Scandinavian country’s celestial spectacle is among the best. Plus, half of the country is located above the Arctic Circle.
Are you one of the many aurora aficionados that have existed literally since humans first caught sight of the northern lights?
Not to worry.
The dancing greens of the northern lights. Source: Johannes Groll / Unsplash.
We’ve got you covered with general information about when, where, and how to see the lights, myths based on them, and all sorts of tips and tricks from locals.
Why does aurora borealis occur?
The northern lights are the result of collisions between the sun’s electrically charged particles with the Earth’s gaseous particles in the atmosphere.
The change in color is due to the types of gas particles colliding. The most common color, green, is produced by the collision of oxygen particles in the thermosphere, about 60 miles up in the skies.
Blue and purplish-red auroras are produced by the collision of nitrogen particles, found in the exosphere, the highest layer in the earth’s atmosphere. Completely red auroras, the rarest, are produced by high-altitude oxygen at 200 miles above.
At the North Pole, total darkness can prevail for 24 hours a day for six full months during the winter. The further away from them you get, the shorter the northern lights last, and the brighter the sun gets.
Far south of the Arctic Circle, and far north of the Antarctic Circle, you can’t see the northern lights at all. Source: Stacey Huang.
When is the best time to see the northern lights in Norway?
Researchers have discovered auroral activity is cyclic, peaking every 11 years. With the last peak occurring in 2013, the next burst in aurora activity is slated for 2024.
Of course, there are still countless opportunities within the 11-year timespans to view the northern lights in full glow.
In fact, aurora borealis are not related to the occurrence of seasons and actually occur year-round, contrary to some beliefs, but the easiest conditions to view them under is during the winter in the north.
Due to these factors, clear winter nights – particularly right at midnight – provide you with the greatest chance of viewership.
How does aurora borealis affect the Earth?
Before the science behind the auroras was known, the unknown lights would prompt fearful responses from humans, unsure if this spectacle was a warning sign from angry gods, or if their creators were simply celebrating and dancing in peace.
As researchers now know, because the lights are usually hundreds of miles above in the atmosphere, they pose no imminent threat to life on earth. The aurorae do regularly disturb radio waves; however, only in extreme cases the atmosphere’s particles produce a current that could reach the ground causing danger.
The current could affect power lines, pipelines, computer networks, and high-altitude planes. However, these (fully hypothetical) situations would be an extreme rarity.
It’s important to keep in mind that the aurorae are actually a reminder that geomagnetic storms are coming, caused by solar storms. Solar storms cause such explosions on the sun that the northern lights can be seen as far south as the UK.
To wrap things up, your life is not in danger from these powerful light shows. In fact, it’ll only be all the richer once you experience them.
Does it get more picturesque than the aurora borealis? Source: Tommy Andreassen / Pixabay.
Have any myths arisen around the northern lights?
Aurora borealis has long invoked conflicting senses of mystery, confusion, and joy in humans who gazed up at the lights in search of answers as to why these peculiar phenomena occur.
Ancient Greece and Rome
The name aurora borealis is actually derived from the Greek words “aurora”, meaning sunrise, and “boreas”, meaning wind.
In Greek mythology, it was believed that Aurora, the goddess of dawn and the sister of Helios (sun god), and Selene (moon goddess) would prance across the dawn sky in her chariot to alert her siblings of a new day.
The Greeks’ Italian counterparts, the Romans, also believed Aurora was dancing across the lightening sky, indicating the start of a new day.
When auroras would occur so far south in Europe, they would oftentimes appear red, indicating intense solar activity.
Real causes unbeknownst to the medieval peoples of France and Italy, however, they took the flaring lights to mean a bad omen or upcoming lifechanging event.
In Scotland and England, such red skies reportedly appeared just weeks before the French Revolution.
Ancient North America
Various legends came about from the northern lights in the ancient lands today known as North America.
The Cree Indians, for example, believed the lights were their dead ancestors’ spirits trying to communicate with their loved ones on earth.
The Algonquins believed the aurora was a fire crafted by their creator who was carefully watching over the humans below.
The ancient Nordic region
In Icelandic legends, the lights were associated with childbirth and would supposedly relieve the pain of child delivery. However, the mother shouldn’t look directly at the aurora because the baby would be born cross-eyed.
In Finland, the lights were apparently caused by a firefox who ran so quickly, sparks would fly off his tail, thus creating the aurorae.
Finally, in Norse mythology, the lights were reflections from the armor of the Valkyrie, powerful and brave female warriors who would willingly risk death.
What is the best place to see the aurora borealis in Norway?
We’re divulging just a few – of many – picture-perfect places in Norway to see the northern lights.
The city of Tromso is also known as “the gateway to the Arctic”, largely due to its location in the Auroral Oval, the area with the highest chance to see the northern lights.
Without having to leave the city, you can head to Parkgata.
This street is close to the Kongsbakken park, which has no bright streetlights to take away from the magical light show.
North Cape and Svalbard
At the North Cape, you’re surrounded by natural beauty from the sky to the ground; everywhere you turn. The northernmost point near mainland Norway is, by definition, a fantastic place to chase the northern lights.
It’s easy to reach the North Cape thanks to an underwater tunnel connecting the island of Magerøya to the mainland of Norway. Keep in mind, though, that during the winter, the cape can only be accessed by organized tours.
Above the North Cape is the untamed Svalbard archipelago, which is arguably the best place to see the northern lights in Norway.
The northern lights shining over Svalbard. Source: Noel Bauza / Pixabay.
A characteristic that distinguishes the Lofoten Islands from the hundreds of others (equally beautiful) spots in Norway to see the auroras is that their reflections flicker in the sea surrounding the archipelago, amplifying the beauty of the experience.
Similar to Tromso, Lofoten’s closeness to the Auroral Oval makes viewing the northern lights that much better.
Just north of the Lofoten Islands lies the archipelago of Vesterålen. The area is one of the best in northern Norway to view aurora borealis – and locals can attest to that.
On a northern light safari, local guides will show you where the best viewpoints are in the district and even teach you how to capture the sights on camera – as it’s generally tricky given how fickle they can be.
Bodø and Salten
In Bodø, where the northern lights dance from April to September and maybe even beyond, it’s encouraged to save yourself a spot on one of the city’s countless rooftop bars or to take an organized bus tour to a more secluded area for maximum effect.
Just two hours away sits another incredible hub for the auroras: Salten.
This low-key district purposefully offers little traffic and little light pollution in order for the northern lights and other various nature attractions to be the only focus.
Where else in the world does aurora borealis occur?
Aurora borealis is centered over the northern pole. This means that countries within the Auroral Oval, a ring above the Earth’s geomagnetic north pole where the aurora borealis occurs, or the Arctic Circle, can count themselves lucky in viewing the colorful lights each year. These places include:
- Canada (particularly the Yukon, Nunavut, and Northwest Territories)
- Russia (northern regions, particularly Siberia)
The northern lights illuminating northern Norway. Source: John Huang / Pixabay.
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Source: Norway Today