Frequently Asked Questions
Before sending any question about the Northern Lights to us, please read the following web pages. Probably you will find the answers to your questions.
How often are the Northern Lights in the sky of Lapland?
You can check it in our Aurora Movie gallery. At the moment (2011) solar activity is in its rising phase after a deep minimum so the probability of seeing Northern Lights is getting better! Last spring (2011) auroras were on the 60% of the nights (see the statistics below). Note, the all-sky cameras see the Northern Lights trough the clouds. That you cannot do with an unaided eye.
Is it possible to have a tour at the observatory and see the Northern Lights?
The observatory does not have facilities to serve tourists. We are an independent department of the University of Oulu and our main task is geophysical observations and related research. We do not have public opening hours at the observatory and we do not work during evenings and nights when the Northern Lights are in the sky. Note: Sodankylä is 350km north of Oulu and 130km north of Rovaniemi.
Is it possible to get a guided Northern Light safari from the observatory?
No. We do not have safari services. If you are planning a trip to see the Northern Lights, there are guided Northern Light tours from different ski resorts ( Pyhä-Luosto, Saariselkä, Levi, Ylläs) in Lapland. Check their webpages for guided safaris.
Which time of year I can observe the Northern Lights in Lapland?
The season of the Northern Lights starts in the end of August when nights become darker. However in the start of the season nights are short and just the darkest moments are suitable for observing the Northern Lights. But the days become shorter and shorter towards December when the polar night of the norhern hemisphere covers part of Northern Scandinavia. The auroral season continues until late April when the nights are too bright to see Northern Lights.
Can I see the Northern Lights anywhere in Finland?
Yes, you can, but the probability of seeing Northern Lights increases when you travel further north. The auroral oval, usually about 2000km from the magnetic North Pole, expands during magnetic storms. During a regular night the auroral oval covers northernmost Scandinavia and Northern Lights are visible in Lapland.
How to get a forecast for the coming days?
The source of the Northern Lights are particles originally from the Sun. This particle flow a.k.a. Solar Wind varies. Monitoring of the activity of the Sun and Solar Wind gives information about approaching disturbances in Earth's magnetosphere. You can get forecasts for the coming days from, e.g., SpaceWeather.com.
And what about long-term forecasts?
The lifetime of the active regions on the Sun varies. Sometimes the active regions stay alive for a few months. Because the Sun rotates around its rotation axis in about 27 days (note: the Earth does it once per day) the active region faces Earth about every four weeks. Check the activity 27 days backwards if there were Northern Lights on the sky. The same source can cause them again. This can be seen also in the geomagnetic activity, which is monitored by the observatory. The plot below shows three month activity cycle. If the Ak has increased suddenly, usually it increases again about 27 days later (see: current activity) with auroras.
So, check the current activity level and count 27 days (or even 54 days) forward and book your trip. Note, it still can be cloudy, but the propability to get the Northern Lights is higher.
What do I need to take into account when I try to catch them with my camera?
The following setup gives a good start:
- Wear warm clothes so you can stay outside waiting for the northern lights! Keep spare batteries warm in a pocket.
- Use a tripod if possible. It is important not to move the camera during the exposure.
- Use the manual mode of your camera.
- Set the sensitivity value to ISO 400 or higher if possible (Note: digital compact cameras usually give noisy pictures at high ISO settings so a system camera is better). If you still use film, an ISO 400 slide film is a good choice.
- Use a wide-angle lens set at the smallest F-value available. F2.8 is already good. Smaller value means bigger aperture (more light) used for exposure.
- Focus at infinity.
- Start with a reasonably long exposure time (20 seconds).
Where I can get more info?
Last updated: 26.10.2016