• Jan Švamberg

Your first Northern Lights hunt - What you need to know



If you are going out to watch a show of a lifetime, wouldn’t you like to go prepared? Imagine missing something life-changing just because you were not prepared well enough. It sounds like a nightmare!


And this nightmare will become a reality if you hunt for the Northern Lights without preparing for it first! Proper preparations will only make things easier for you during your hunt. Think about it, your chances of successfully watching the Northern Lights on your first try will increase significantly the more you are prepared.


But, if you are not quite sure what kinds of preparations you need before you set out to watch the Northern Lights, do not worry. We have your back with this one. Keep reading to learn about the preparations you need before hunting for the Northern Lights!


When And Where Can You See the Northern Lights?


Knowing when and where the Northern Lights will be showing up is the first step in your preparations. But you will have difficulty getting prepared if you do not know much about the Northern Lights. Hence, here is a short preview of the Northern Lights so that you can carry out your preparations properly.


The Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, occur when the solar wind, or charged particles ejected from the Sun’s upper atmosphere, slams into the Earth’s upper atmosphere. This phenomenon occurs constantly, but you can only see it visually at certain places and times.


Places in the Arctic circle, namely Alaska, northern Canada, Iceland, north Norway, Sweden, and Finland, have the perfect conditions for seeing the Aurora Borealis. The lights are the most prominent during the months between September and March. This is because these places are at their darkest during this time.



Also, at this time of the year, the geomagnetic activity increases due to the equinoxes. The Earth’s axis is in the perfect position towards the Sun during these months.


So, to view the Northern Lights, you must first go near the Artic Circle from September to March. And you will also need to make sure you go hunting for the lights during nighttime. Only then you can see the lights as any source of light decreases Aurora’s visibility.


Preparations You Need Before Hunting for the Northern Lights


Once you get to the right place at the right time of the year, you must make more preparations. These will be for your actual Northern Lights hunt. Some of the preparations you will need include:


Wait till nighttime


The solar wind constantly hits the Earth, and the Northern Lights always occur, but you cannot see them during the day. You might also catch a glimpse of the lights during the sunrise and sunset when the sky provides partial darkness, but they will not be the brightest.


If you want to catch the Northern Lights in their full glory, you will need to wait till nighttime. You can ask your local guides or hoteliers for a specific time when they appear, but that is not how it works. It would be best to get some rest during the day and wait between 11 pm and 5 am. When the sky is at its darkest, you will have a higher chance of seeing them then.


Stay near the countryside


While staying in the city will be the most convenient for you if you are a tourist, you might not get to see the Northern Lights. Although you will be more connected to the world and have easy access to everything in the city, you will risk missing out on the Northern Lights.


This is because the cities have a lot of light pollution. With artificial lights making even the nighttime look like day, you will not be able to observe the magnificence of the Aurora Borealis. But that does not mean you would not be able to see them. You will still have a chance of seeing the light show, but it won’t be as spectacular as away from any source of artificial lights.



If you genuinely want to experience Auroras, you will have to travel to a more secluded area. Travel to a place far away from artificial lights - the darker, the better.


Check the weather forecast


Always check your weather forecast before heading out. If the skies are cloudy, you will have a lower chance of seeing the lights, and you need to know that before heading out. Otherwise, your entire hunt would be pretty pointless. So, always check the weather forecast first and find locations without clouds.


The Northern Lights occur higher in the Earth’s atmosphere than clouds which is the reason why clouds block the view of Aurora. The best place is without any clouds. In case the weather conditions are not favourable - a few clouds will not prevent you from missing the show completely as they will block only part of the sky and you can still enjoy the rest of the show which is not hidden behind clouds.


Have the car ready


If you have a car, that is great. But, if you do not, then rent one. This is because Auroras are happening higher than clouds are and the weather is constantly changing in northern countries so if your location becomes cloudy you can find a better place with fewer clouds.


While you can see a strong Aurora show in the city, the lower Aurora activity will not be visible there. Having a car will allow you to travel away from artificial lights, which are decreasing the visibility of Aurora. Finding a dark place will become easier than without a car. Remember the darker, the better!



Having a car ready will ensure you are prepared to go hunting any time of the night. Travelling the distance will not be a problem if you have a car. So, if your friend calls you to go to a location because the Northern Lights are visible there, you will be prepared to roll out of bed and into your car.


Take food


Never go Aurora hunting on an empty stomach; at least bring some food, water and hot drinks as temperatures can drop quite low. You might drive for a while before finding a perfect spot. And, being hungry can only contribute to you losing patience.


You might also want to snack on something while you enjoy the light show. So, it’s best if you take some food with you.


Stay connected


Whether hunting for the Northern Lights in the cities or countryside, you should always be connected to the internet.


Buy yourself a pre-paid SIM card that has a good data plan or activate roaming services on your SIM card. Some apps give you information on the location where lights are visible, which can be extremely helpful if you are trying to find a good spot. Plus, you will need to check the weather conditions to ensure you are prepared if things go south last minute.



Not only that, if you are self-hunting in your car, you might get too absorbed in the search and lose track of where you are going. If you get lost, you will be wholly stranded without data. So, be extra cautious and stay connected to the internet.


Pick your warmest clothes


If you are in the Arctic Circle during the months between September to March, it is going to be cold. You will be freezing during your hunt if you do not wear your warmest clothes.


You should also pack warm clothes, mufflers, gloves, socks, etc., just in case. You do not know how cold it will be, and weather forecasts are not always accurate. Trust us; you do not want to get sick during your travels, especially when trying to cross an item off your bucket list.


Also, do not forget to pack ahead of time as you do not want to rush at the last minute.


Take your camera gear


Well, duh. You have to take your camera gear with you. It might seem like a no-brainer to you, but you will be surprised how many people forget to pack beforehand and leave their cameras behind.



Remember to pack the other gear like batteries, lenses, memory cards and a tripod so you can truly capture the beauty of the Northern Lights.


Avoid artificial lights


When it comes to the Northern Lights, you should always choose a dark spot. A place away from any artificial lights should be good. You should find a spot in advance for the best view because the presence of light dims the beauty of the light show.



If you genuinely want to enjoy the Northern Lights, you should try and hunt for a dark open space. The darker the sky is, the more you will be able to see the lights.


Check the KP level


The KP index measures the magnitude of the atmosphere’s geomagnetic activity. It uses a scale of 0 to 9 to measure this, with nine being the highest. The higher the number on the scale is, the better your chances are. So, keep an eye on the KP level as well.


The KP level can give you a hint of how strong Aurora activity is predicted but don’t rely on it so heavily. The letter “P” in “KP” means Planetary - It’s the prediction for the whole planet and not for your specific location.


An example: In Canada is K index 0, in Finland is K index 0 and in Iceland is K index 6. The KP index is the average of these values. The KP index will be in this case 2 (KP 2). In reality, it’s a little bit more complicated than this but this is a simplified example, just to show you that you can see Aurora even when the KP index is 0 and on the other hand sometimes you don’t get to see the Northern Lights even when KP index is 2.


Consult the apps


One way to increase your chances of seeing the Northern Lights is by checking the apps and websites that predict the auroral activity and give you a forecast.



These apps and websites can track the Northern Lights based on the solar wind conditions. Some can show you the KP index and the cloud coverage of the sky. You can even get live updates on the auroral activity since a few sites get updated every 30 minutes; some even get updated every 5 minutes!


Have realistic expectations


Finding the Northern Lights is a bit more complex than you think. After all, they only appear for a short while and vanish as soon as they appear. This is why you need to have realistic expectations.


The show itself can last from just a few minutes up to several hours which is the reason to be fully prepared and not to waste time as every minute counts and can decrease your chances to catch a glimpse of Aurora.



Accept that you probably might not find the best spot for viewing the Northern Lights on your first try, if you find it at all. It might take a few tries before you experience the true magnificence of these lights.


Do not be disappointed if you miss it during your first few tries, or even if you only get a few seconds of the show. Waiting is part of the process; it is all worth it once all conditions will be in your favour.


Conclusion


Now that you know what kind of preparations you will need before hunting for the Northern Lights, follow them as much as possible to have the best experience. And, make sure you have a great adventure on a way to meeting your lifelong dream to see the Northern Lights!

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