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Old 22nd December 2016, 21:05   #1
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Default Chasing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis): Nature's spectacular show

The first clear memory I have of the magnanimity of the Aurora Borealis is a video uploaded by one of the astronauts onboard the International Space Station. And I thought, hmm, ain’t that a view.

A reading on the Northern Lights, scientifically known as the aurora borealis, followed.

Nature, as it turns out, is quite the artist. Here’s how and why the phenomenon occurs.

Quote:
The bright dancing lights of the aurora are actually collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth's atmosphere. The lights are seen above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres. They are known as 'Aurora borealis' in the north and 'Aurora australis' in the south.

Auroral displays appear in many colours although pale green and pink are the most common. Shades of red, yellow, green, blue, and violet have been reported. The lights appear in many forms from patches or scattered clouds of light to streamers, arcs, rippling curtains or shooting rays that light up the sky with an eerie glow.
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The Northern Lights are actually the result of collisions between gaseous particles in the Earth's atmosphere with charged particles released from the sun's atmosphere. Variations in color are due to the type of gas particles that are colliding. The most common auroral colour, a pale yellowish-green, is produced by oxygen molecules located about 60 miles above the earth. Rare, all-red auroras are produced by high-altitude oxygen, at heights of up to 200 miles. Nitrogen produces blue or purplish-red aurora.
http://www.northernlightscentre.ca/northernlights.html

Now, for us to be able to observe the phenomenon, the following need to be perfectly aligned:

- Minimal, if not a complete lack of, light pollution
- Far, far away from the prying light from the sun: this rules out a major part of the central hemisphere, and necessitates long winters
- And of course, the occurrence of the phenomenon itself

Turns out, there are very few places on earth that afford you such a view. Make no mistake, the phenomenon occurs everywhere across the skies, around the world. But one can’t “see” it as commonly, for one or more of the reasons above.

The Nordic countries, and also northern America, are some potential areas to experience the northern lights (similarly, souther NZ and Australia for southern lights).

History says Mumbai was witness to the lights in the late 1800s. Doubt that should happen anytime soon given how vibrant it is now!

Every so often, I thought of going “chasing” these lights; for that matter, a bunch of my colleagues/class mates visited Alaska hoping to see them. Not a lot of luck for them.

As it so turned out, I was to be in Switzerland in the winter of 2016. And the best part about visiting Europe during the winter is- an easy and convenient access to go hunting for the lights!

After floating this idea with friends, we had a winner! There is a general consensus that Tromso, Norway has become quite the popular destination to view the lights.

Tromso is comfortably in the arctic circle region; around 300kms from the Arctic circle to be precise.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troms%C3%B8

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https://www.tumblr.com/search/to%20minore

A friend’s friend had gone the previous year with a group: Chasing Lights. I promptly got in touch with them and signed up!

Yep, we were signed up to go chase the beautiful lights.

The company has a couple of options: a minibus (13 people) and the bigger bus (50 people). We booked ourselves for two nights on the minibus since over the bigger bus, it offered:
- Tripod stands
- Thermal suits and boots
- Dinner, and hot chocolate
- More importantly, being a minibus, easy and quick maneuverability and more reach
* on both, you get assistance on photography and a copy of photos clicked during your chase

Off we were to Tromso from Zurich. Our flight was Zurich – Frankfurt – Tromso. The last two hours of the journey are simply breathtaking as they offer a stunning view of ice-capped mountains and land, and settlements lit up along the blanket of ice and dark grey rivers. (Unfortunately, I was on the aisle seat, as is my travel preference)

Now, although this is just through observation: of the Arctic winter, Sept-Oct and March/April are considered to be the best months to view the activity as the skies are clear and Nov-Feb are generally hit-or-miss since a good amount of snowfall is expected and the skies are overcast.

We landed at Tromso amid grey skies on a tarmac freshly coated with snow and then walked to the terminal. A cab ride later, we checked into the Radisson, in the heart of Tromso; a quaint town on the Tromsoya island with gentle mountains peppered around the sea.

The “chase” typically starts at 6pm from the town and can go until 4am.

In preparation, we layered up: five layers on top, two on bottom and two pairs of socks within snow shoes.

We were last to be picked up by the troupe: a very friendly bunch of three (two guides that led the “chase”, and the driver, who they call the Stig).

Naturally, witnessing the northern lights is not a guarantee but the guides promised every ounce of determination and enthusiasm during the chase. They weren’t kidding: through the course of the chases on both nights, we hopped from one island to another, inland towards the coast, depending on where they anticipated a clear sky.

Now, here’s the thing about the lights: you can’t easily discern them unless the activity is extremely strong and you have a keen eye. You can easily mistake them for clouds. The second, the color (green/pink) isn’t as strongly seen as easily as you see them in the pictures. The pictures are so, because the camera lens are more sensitive than our eyes are in deciphering the light spectrum.

So, as the drive started, our guide had his camera lens settings in order (minimal aperture, high ISO (800-1000), low shutter speed) and pointed towards the sky.

And just as were settling in, mentally prepared for the uncertainty in viewing this phenomenon, he asked to stop and got down. And within a moment, called us out.

We had a sighting!

And a beautiful one at that!

The sight is one to behold: a beautiful wave of green across the sky! We couldn’t help ourselves jumping with joy as we admired the view.

And then just like that, clouds took over the show.

For the next two hours or so, we just looked all over the sky hoping for that clear patch. As we played hide and seek with the clouds, we soaked what was around us: snow-clad mountains, the sea around them and the occasional settlement.

We had a round of hot chocolate while around a bonfire and exchanged stories with others in the group: Polish, American, Danish and Siberian.

The skies probably felt left out and cleared up.

And what followed, ladies and gentlemen, was one of nature’s finest performances: we witnessed the aurora all over the sky, dancing around. For ten seconds or so, we saw the elusive pink lights.

A true spectacle, these aurora are.

We continued our chase for another hour or so, and then returned to our hotel by 3am.

Contentment doesn’t even begin to explain our feeling!

The next day was a completely snow-out, with day-long snow showers and sleet.

We lined up for our second chase that evening, even more excited for how the sighting would be. As we continued with our hide-and-seek with the clouds, we saw lesser activity that we had on the previous night, but with more intensity.

The guides said that after a period of strong activity, the lights (essentially, charged particles) get strewn all over the sky. So, we had the entire sky faintly lit up!

We returned that night as the snow shower was unrelenting, with stars and lights in our eyes.

Most of the activity we witnessed was around the Ringvassoya island.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ringvass%C3%B8y

Our experience chasing the northern lights has been nothing short of extraordinary: an exciting rendezvous where nature put on a spectacular show! Something so beautiful that you stand still in the moment watching nature's canvas turn up in its true splendor!
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Old 22nd December 2016, 21:13   #2
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Default re: Chasing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis): Nature's spectacular show

And the pictures!

Chasing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis): Nature's spectacular show-20161210_dsc0973.jpg

Chasing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis): Nature's spectacular show-20161212dsc08277.jpg

Chasing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis): Nature's spectacular show-20161211dsc08261.jpg

Chasing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis): Nature's spectacular show-dsc_0409.jpg

Chasing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis): Nature's spectacular show-dsc_0427.jpg

Chasing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis): Nature's spectacular show-dsc_0469.jpg

Chasing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis): Nature's spectacular show-dsc_0444.jpg

Chasing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis): Nature's spectacular show-dsc_0475.jpg

Chasing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis): Nature's spectacular show-dsc_0498.jpg

Last edited by GTO : 23rd December 2016 at 11:35. Reason: Moving last 3 pics up - thanks for sharing!
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Old 22nd December 2016, 21:17   #3
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Default re: Chasing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis): Nature's spectacular show

Some thoughts post this experience:

- The uncertainty: there’s tremendous uncertainty when it comes to witnessing the light. There should be activity in the first place. Then come other factors such as, cloud cover, “right place, right time”. And very importantly, the attitude. Given that the chases happen at night, and you’re braving sub-zero temperatures, you can lose the enthusiasm very easily and quickly. You need to be with a group that is excited and motivated and that gets you excited along with them
- Money: especially considering the uncertainty, this is a big deal. Our overall trip cost about 2.5 lakhs INR ex-Zurich, for two, including flights, hotel stay and meals, and chases for two nights
- The right group of people: there’s quite a few groups at quite a few places that organize the chases. Make sure you’ve researched well before signing up. Given the uncertainty and effort/money you’re putting in, you want to be with a group that is very enthusiastic

But once these things are taken care of/overcome, the lights absolutely do not disappoint. In fact, for me, the entire effort was worth everything put in, within the first few minutes of witnessing the activity!
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Old 23rd December 2016, 09:20   #4
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Default re: Chasing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis): Nature's spectacular show

The very sight of the Aurora Borealis is incredible, like a silent piano up in the skies. Sadly even if the KPI Index is high, the sky must be clear for the lights to be visible. Glad that you were able to witness one of the nature's most uncertain yet spectacular drama.
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Old 23rd December 2016, 09:33   #5
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Default re: Chasing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis): Nature's spectacular show

Good shout, it is definitely worth the visit. Your inputs are quite similar to those from my colleague who visited a few years ago. He was surprised to see much more in his pics than he remembered seeing with his naked eye.

At the time, he had dissuaded us from travelling with our young son. Did you have any children in the group? Or would you also say this is not a child friendly activity? Considering the time/ cold, etc.

Nice pics and crisp account of your trip. It makes me wonder if I should call my ex colleague who has a house in Tromso. But then, as you mentioned most of the costs would pertain to travel than accomodation.

Wish you a nice winter in Europe, I hope you are able to make some more trips elsewhere
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Old 23rd December 2016, 11:49   #6
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Default Re: Chasing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis): Nature's spectacular show

Wow, this is something that I want to strike off my bucket list in a year or two. If possible, can you provide the split of the spend? Also, was there a fixed price for the tour that you had to split up among the people who had registered for that day or there is a fixed price per person?

Last edited by prateekm : 23rd December 2016 at 11:51.
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Old 23rd December 2016, 13:46   #7
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Default Re: Chasing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis): Nature's spectacular show

Quote:
Originally Posted by //M View Post
The very sight of the Aurora Borealis is incredible, like a silent piano up in the skies. Sadly even if the KPI Index is high, the sky must be clear for the lights to be visible. Glad that you were able to witness one of the nature's most uncertain yet spectacular drama.
Perhaps you should post some pictures from your trip too

But the uncertainty is nerve-racking: you can have no activity on a clear sky but witness a dance show even on a heavily cloudy/snowy day, as we did.

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Originally Posted by selfdrive View Post
Good shout, it is definitely worth the visit.
Absolutely!

Quote:
At the time, he had dissuaded us from travelling with our young son. Did you have any children in the group? Or would you also say this is not a child friendly activity? Considering the time/ cold, etc.
We didn't have any children in our group but my colleague is planning to make a similar trip next month with her 7 year old daughter.

The conditions are definitely not comfortable, the cold and the long night hours, coupled with the uncertainty can get to you. I myself was done around midnight and would have returned to the hotel if it were up to me.

A quick solution is to take the big bus, rather than the minibus. The big bus has a toilet, is continuously heated and allows children to sleep, while the minibus is generally switched off when everyone is outside.

Quote:
Nice pics and crisp account of your trip. It makes me wonder if I should call my ex colleague who has a house in Tromso. But then, as you mentioned most of the costs would pertain to travel than accomodation.
Actually, both: travel and the excursion.

Quote:
Wish you a nice winter in Europe, I hope you are able to make some more trips elsewhere
Thank you! Mostly around Switzerland for the moment, apart from this big trip up north!

Quote:
Originally Posted by prateekm View Post
Wow, this is something that I want to strike off my bucket list in a year or two. If possible, can you provide the split of the spend? Also, was there a fixed price for the tour that you had to split up among the people who had registered for that day or there is a fixed price per person?
The flights ex-Zurich: 450 CHF (~30 INR) / person
We chose the quickest travel time (7 hrs), you can have a longer duration (24 hrs) at 1/3rd the price

The hotel: 600 CHF ( 40k INR) / 3 nights, including breakfast
This was Radisson Blu, right at the city center. You can probably find options at say 70% this proce

The chases: 400 CHF ( 25k INR) / person / 2nights on minibus
We chose what we feel are one of the best in the business, and the more expensive minibus. You can do these chases at half the price, although similarly cutting down your chances

Food: 100 CHF (7k INR) / person / day
As is in Europe, food is generally expensive in Tromso

On top of this, you'll buy souvenirs that'll set you back by at least 50k INR.

Hope this helps!

Last edited by FlyingSpur : 24th December 2016 at 01:56. Reason: Guessing food is 7k and not 70k pp p/day :)
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Old 23rd December 2016, 13:46   #8
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Default Re: Chasing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis): Nature's spectacular show

Lovely trip and awesome pictures. Having lived in Canada and traveled in Arctic Circle means I have seen Auroras on multiple times, a couple of times during camping outside away from cities and villages with my better half at that time

They indeed provide an experience that you can't forget in lifetime. Thank you so much for making me remember old memories and sharing your experience here. I also look forward to my next chance to experience them again.
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Old 23rd December 2016, 15:57   #9
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Default Re: Chasing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis): Nature's spectacular show

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Originally Posted by libranof1987 View Post
Perhaps you should post some pictures from your trip too

But the uncertainty is nerve-racking: you can have no activity on a clear sky but witness a dance show even on a heavily cloudy/snowy day, as we did.
I need to start penning down a travelogue. Sadly due to lot of travel commitments till New Year, I will not be able to dedicate time for it. Post New Year's eve, I will share a write-up and lot of pictures.

These Scandinavian and Nordic countries are so bloody expensive. I had been planning another trip to the wild north, but sadly Vitamin M will not agree at this moment. But I must say, each penny spent is totally worth it.
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Old 23rd December 2016, 19:48   #10
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Default Re: Chasing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis): Nature's spectacular show

Simply amazed , the snaps were just perfect . For nailing these perfect shots I am sure you must have made some Lunar calculations prior to your visit. Would be great if you could also share few details of what all we would need to keep in mind while taking such photos.Since these would need long exposures any specif mounts like Altazimuth Mounts you used to follow the stars and have such clear shots.

Last edited by ARAY : 23rd December 2016 at 19:50.
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Old 24th December 2016, 01:21   #11
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Default Re: Chasing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis): Nature's spectacular show

Wow!! Breathtaking!! Thank you for sharing this!!

Were these pics clicked by the guide or you? Because Since this happens for a short frame of time, you will probably need the camera properly setup or so. I mean these pictures look proper professional grade especially the 2nd one.

Thanks

Rachit
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Old 24th December 2016, 13:24   #12
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Default Re: Chasing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis): Nature's spectacular show

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Originally Posted by ARAY View Post
Simply amazed , the snaps were just perfect . For nailing these perfect shots I am sure you must have made some Lunar calculations prior to your visit. Would be great if you could also share few details of what all we would need to keep in mind while taking such photos.Since these would need long exposures any specif mounts like Altazimuth Mounts you used to follow the stars and have such clear shots.
No man; no such calculations.

The problem is, flights to Tromso are very limited; certain carriers operate only on Sat and Tues. So, managing the shortest travel time, especially around the leave you can manage from work, approximating weather forecast (which has a very high chance of changing), availability of guides: all these make for a very interesting combination.

You just take up the slot that works best for you!

Also, interesting thing, now that you bring up the moon. The moon light has no bearing on how well you can see the lights; it is too high up to affect the sighting.

So, while a no-moon night gives you a splendid view of the night sky, a full-moon night (the time we went) gives you a wonderful view of the landscape.

They provided us with tripods; I didn't really check what brand they were.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rachit.K.Dogra View Post
Wow!! Breathtaking!! Thank you for sharing this!!

Were these pics clicked by the guide or you? Because Since this happens for a short frame of time, you will probably need the camera properly setup or so. I mean these pictures look proper professional grade especially the 2nd one.

Thanks

Rachit
Thanks!

The first three are clicked by the guide; the rest by me.

I used a Nikon D3300 with a 18-55mm lens. The guides taught us the basic settings we need to use:

ISO: 800-1000 (I've used those settings; the guides used 1400, hence their images are much brighter)
Shutter speed: 1/4 sec
Aperture: the minimum your lens offers

I used to clicker to minimum vibrations; it was -2 that night!

Last edited by libranof1987 : 24th December 2016 at 13:25.
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Old 25th December 2016, 14:11   #13
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Default Re: Chasing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis): Nature's spectacular show

Here's some more pictures. There's actually so many, it's been hard choosing!

There was a huge burst of euphoria when we sighted the Lights for the first time and we went crazy clicking. But after the initial round of pictures, we just thought we'd enjoy the show with our eyes since the guides were to share pictures anyway.

A typical fjord.

Chasing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis): Nature's spectacular show-20161210dsc08380.jpg

This activity stretched from the horizon to above us, and almost to the other end.

Chasing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis): Nature's spectacular show-20161211_dsc1062.jpg

The next few pictures when viewed in quick succession highlight the "dance". It is not that coherent because each picture takes about three-four seconds.

Chasing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis): Nature's spectacular show-20161211_dsc1071.jpg

Chasing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis): Nature's spectacular show-20161211_dsc1068.jpg

Chasing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis): Nature's spectacular show-20161211_dsc1070.jpg

Chasing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis): Nature's spectacular show-20161211_dsc1069.jpg

Chasing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis): Nature's spectacular show-20161211_dsc1067.jpg

The charged particles then scatter after such a strong activity

Chasing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis): Nature's spectacular show-20161211_dsc1113.jpg

The next three pictures when viewed in quick succession highlight the "dance". It is not that coherent because each picture takes about three-four seconds.

Chasing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis): Nature's spectacular show-20161211dsc08398.jpg

Chasing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis): Nature's spectacular show-20161211dsc08399.jpg

Chasing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis): Nature's spectacular show-20161211dsc08400.jpg

Last edited by libranof1987 : 25th December 2016 at 14:15.
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Old 26th December 2016, 11:42   #14
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Default Re: Chasing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis): Nature's spectacular show

AWESOME is the word that comes to my mind after seeing this amazing phenomenon. Very good TL. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 27th December 2016, 05:02   #15
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Default Re: Chasing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis): Nature's spectacular show

Whoa! That is some really awesome bits that you got of the aurora.

We'd gone up to Alta (more north than Tromso) in Jan 2016 for the Aurora. Got a decent sighting on day one and the weather messed it up the two nights after that.
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