What is the Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis?
The Northern & Southern Lights are the result of collisions between gaseous particles in the Earth’s atmosphere with charged particles released from the sun’s atmosphere. Variations in colour are due to the type of gas particles that are colliding. You’ll learn more about this on your Aurora Hunt.
When is it the best time to see the Northern Lights?
The Aurora Borealis season is between mid-September and mid-April each year. This is because we need darkness to the activity. The best time to come is with what works with your plans already. There is some data to suggest that there is increased activity during Autumn and Spring, however, we frequently see Northern Lights in Tromsø region throughout the season. The factor that affects the probability of seeing Northern Lights is finding ample gaps in the clouds. Even with high predictions of activity, if there is increased cloud coverage, it is not as likely to see the Nothern Lights.
The solar cycles go up and down all the time, right now we are in the beginning of an upwards cycle with “more activity” however even on a year with less activity we were seeing Auroras almost every night. When we don’t see any activity, it is mostly due to heavy cloud coverage. Due to where Tromsø is located we have the most sightings of Aurora world-wide, even on ‘low’ years we still see them very frequently.
If you are wishing to make the most of your Arctic holiday and are looking to pair your Northern Lights activity with other winter activities, we’d suggest coming when there is likely to be snow. Between January and April each year you can enjoy Husky Sledding, Snowshoeing, Reindeer Sledding as in all probability there will be ample snow fall. Some years the season for these activities is opened early, however, there is no way to know in advance.
Why Tromsø is the best place to see the Northern Lights
Tromsø is the only city in the world to be in the heart of the Aurora Oval, along the gulf stream, have a network or surrounding microclimates & be in the Aurora sweet spot, for these reasons, no other city compares to Tromsø if you goal is to see the Northern Lights.
Tromsø is in the heart of the Aurora Oval. The Aurora Oval is an oval shaped belt that runs around the earth at both the top and the bottom. The belt is the areas that can see activity depending on the KP. As Tromsø remains in the heart of the belt, it is possible to see the Northern Lights even at a KP 1 or less.
Tromsø is 70 degrees north. This means that Tromsø is situated in the Aurora sweet spot; the nights are dark enough to see activity consistently from September until mid-April and far enough north that activity is visible even on a kp 1. Regarding the kp, don’t worry too much about this. If there is any solar activity in the Northern hemisphere then we would see it here, assuming there are gaps in the clouds, and it is dark. This is because Tromsø is located at 70 degrees north.
Tromsø is in a region with an exceptional number of microclimates. Each valley, fjord, mountain and plateau can have significantly different conditions to the neighbouring region, this means that even on very cloudy evenings it is possible to clear skies within a 2 – 3 hr drive. The environmental conditions here are very dynamic, conditions can change so fast that it is impossible to predict the cloud coverage pattern even within a few days. The reason the forecasts and apps are so unreliable here is because we have so many deep valleys, fjords, inland plateau and the gulf stream. The forecasts and apps do not account for these other regions, nor is checking the conditions in Tromsø representative of the other regions.
Tromsø is in the gulf stream, this island surrounded by ocean water that has travelled across the Atlantic and up the Norwegian coast. This beautiful ‘warm’ water is straight from the Caribbean, keeping Tromsø surprisingly warm even throughout winter. Expect that in the heart of winter that temperatures in the city will likely go between 1 and –6 with exceptionally cold days reaching –10 or colder. The coldest day on record was a brisk –18 degrees. As most travellers stay in Tromsø city, this means that the majority of their stay is comfortable and suitable for the whole family. However, don’t be fooled, just one hour inland into one of the deep valleys and away from the gulf stream it is often a fresh –20 to –30 degrees. As tour companies often go inland on evening Aurora Hunts, most have age restrictions in order to protect those vulnerable to such temperatures and too small to regulate their body temperatures properly.
Please check out our Instagram page for recent photos and below. Here are the links to our extended gallery. This is for our Aurora Hunt. You can have a look at how different the Aurora can look depending on the environmental conditions at the time of taking the photo.
For any additional questions, please have a look at our extended FAQ database.
What are the limitations for finding the Northern Lights (gaps in the clouds)?
The main limitations are:
- Incorrect forecast for the environmental conditions
- Road closures, icing risks or avalanche risks preventing us from going into an area where gaps in the clouds are more likely
- Human limitations regarding temperatures they can physiologically withstand safely (Extreme example).
- Human limitations regarding time management, if guests are delayed to the pick, delayed to get dressed or use a bathroom etc it can be the difference between making it to an area without light pollution and gaps in the clouds or missing the gaps in the clouds (Extreme example).
Season 2019/2020 was the lowest year of the Aurora cycle. The Arctic experienced nearly 6 weeks of high cloud coverage (flactuating temperatures + – degrees on an almost daily basis). Our extensive local knowledge and experience meant we still saw activity on 81% of evenings.
What do the Northern Lights look like?
Every single day they are different and in different parts of the world they can look different depending on the gases burning. We have created a gallery for you to see exactly how different they can look on different nights, depending on the environmental conditions. It is true, many people do photoshop their images, however Wandering Owl does not excessively photoshop any photos you will receive or see on any of our media. Our purpose of taking photos is for our love of photography and because we wish our guests to be able to take with them beautiful photos of the evening to remember the experience and all the feelings that went along with it.
Managing my own expectations regarding the Northern Lights
If you create your own expectations around the idea that you will have an enjoyable night out in the Arctic wilderness regardless of if you see activity or not then you will likely feel very satisfied with the adventure.
Some evenings the activity is bright and colourful, on others it can be barely visible. Here is a link to our gallery to show you how different the Aurora Borealis can appear each evening, depending on the environmental conditions.