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Spotting Auroras... How I do it?

Frequently Asked Questions

High vs. High Middle Lat. comparison

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Frequently Asked Questions about Auroras and Pictures

VERY VERY MUCH under construction...8th of March 2003

( Note: These are only my opinions and not maybe the absolute truth!!! Also, this version was written mainly for those who who really want to see the lights and are even ready to travel. Middle latitudes get quite a lot lights too, but probability to get clear skies and good lights at the same time is much smaller compared to the high latitudes. BTW: my pictures are mostly taken from high middle latitude, only Andenes pics are from high latitude.)

  • What auroras and how do they form?

    Well, auroras (Aurora borealis and Aurora australis) are basically just "collision light" and stricking manifestation of the sun-earth connection.
    Within the solar wind (that comes from the sun) there is ever changing number of fast moving electrons and protons. When these electrons and protons (mostly electrons) flow in to earths ionosphere, some of them will collide with the molecules and Atoms in ionosphere. This kind of collision will transfer the energy of the electron to molecule or Atom, making it "excited". When this

  • Where should I travel to see auroras?

    Well, at first let's take a very quick look at the aurora itself, so that you can see why i said what i said. Aurora borealis (northern lights) are not an phenomena that happens only time to time in some isolated parts of the world. Instead auroras or so called Polar auroras are an virtually a permanent ovals of auroral activity encircling the geomagnetic poles, both in the north and in the south. Aurora borealis in the northern hemisphere and Aurora australis in southern...
    To have best possibilities to see at least some aurora, you should travel so far north (or south) that you would get under the auroral oval. Under or very near the "permanent" auroral oval the probability for aurora can be almost 100% if the sky is dark and clear. So, there you should go...

    Where is that???
    If your travel destination is in Nordic countries , you should go at least to the Arctic circle (lat. 66.5 North) or preferably anywhere between arctic circle and Nordkapp(which is the most northern point in nordic countries). In Northern Norway, Finland, Sweden and Iceland you have lot's of places to choose from. If you are thinking about traveling you should try to find info on local weather things, since some places are more cloudy than other and temperatures from coast of Norway to Finnish Lapland can vary VERY greatly. Yet, cold usually means clear skies....

    If your travel destination is in north America, in US your only good travel destination would be Alaska. While if you prefer Canada, then you have huge areas in northern territories where you can try to see aurora.

    Look at Kp maps of midnight equatorward boundaries and travel at least to the blue line or preferably above it: http://sec.noaa.gov/Aurora/index.html

    Not possible to travel far north...what should i do then??? Well, if you are situated outside magnetic high latitudes about the only thing you can do to see good auroral show is just wait for the strong geomagnetic storm. Which would expand the auroral oval down south (or north in southern hemisphere) to the middle latitudes and so down in to the area where you can see them too....
    Note: seeing the good lights is about seeing the active phase of aurora!!! Middle latitude aurora can be visiblefor hours and hours, but it may be active and look good only for few minutes!

    Tools and info:

  • Latitudes (Northern Hemisphere):
    Ok, it goes little like this....High Latitudes are between 90 and 60 degrees North. Middle Latitudes 60 - 30 N and Low 30 - 0 degrees North.

  • What about Magnetic latitudes???
    Geographic and magnetic poles are NOT in the same place!!! This means that geographic and magnetic latitudes are not the same either...Example, i live at geographic high latitudes, but i get only high middle latitude auroras, thanks to tilted magnetic poles. Some very lucky ones in US and Canada live almost at the equator compared to me, but still they get better lights than i do. Which is not fair at all!!! ;-)

    Use following link to find out more about magnetic latitudes: http://sec.noaa.gov/Aurora/index.html

  • What time of the year is best for auroras?

    Geomagnetically speaking we could say that most of the good geomagnetic storms do happen during the Spring and the Autumn....around the Spring and Autumn equinox. The best time for auroral storms starts about 1 month before equinox and lasts about one month after it, but still a strong storm can happen at any time. Yet, if you are near the auroral oval (meaning far in the north), you don't have wait for the big storms, you can just wait for aurora to become active...
    So, the timing question varies from latitude to latitude. In some places, like my home in southern Finland, the Spring and Autumn are aurora time and during the winter not much happens. While if you are in the far north, there the aurora season lasts from Autumn to Spring. Still it may be that the most impressive auroras also there tend to happen around the Spring and Autumn...maybe. Yet, even their "not the most impressive" auroras would be quite enough for me!!!

    Ok, this was not all. If you are really planning a trip to far north, you must take a count that in the far north the dark winter turns in to everlasting day very fast!!! So, you must do some research to find out when they have enough dark skies to do some aurora watching and when the conditions are too bright to do any dark sky phenomena watching!!!! Personally i don't live in far north, but at around 62 north and even here the sky becomes too bright to see aurora around mid May and enough dark around mid August. In the far north the time of the white nights is even longer.

    Tools and info:

  • Geomagnetic storms:
    Geomagnetic storm is a condition when earth's magnetic field is more or less heavily disturbed "worldwide" and when great number of localised substorms happen at the same time around the auroral zones. Geomagnetic storms generally last from hours to several days.

  • Substorms:
    Substorm on the other hand is an local disturbance in the magnetic field or should i say a local "magnetic storm". Which means that there can be a strong storm above one area, but not everywhere around the auroral zone as during true geomagnetic storms. Duration of the substorm varies usually from maybe few minutes to ten minutes or longer....

  • Links:

  • NOAA geomagnetic storm scale

  • Seasonal Distribution of Geomagnetic Disturbances by IPS

  • What time of the day is best for auroras?

    Best time of "day" in any given location is around local midnight. Auroral oval "rotates" or just changes shape so that around local midnight it will reach it's most equatorward spot at that area (if nothing isn't happening otherwise). So, the chances for seeing some aurora is best maybe an hour on both sides of midnight. Yet, seeing an aurora is about seeing an active phase or so called substorm. The best time for witnessing an substorm may be around local midnight, but they may happen also at any other time as well. So, anyone who want to see an aurora, has to be ready to wait and wait and wait. I guess this goes for far north too. It is very well possible that you could see an nice auroral arc going to through zenith for hours and hours in a row, but.....nothing happens. That would not be what you want to see....You want to see how arc transforms in to a curtains and belts and how aurora dances in the sky. Not just some quiet arc...

  • "White or color", colors of the photos vs. actual sighting

    This particular topic comes up on about every aurora discussion forum on regular basis and i too have got couple of questions about it via email. People are fascinated by the normal (usually green) northern lights, but "colorful" northern lights are something even more interesting. Even more worth of seeing and so it certainly can be confusing to see loads of colorful aurora photos everywhere, while the lights you see seem to be just green all the time...Here i try explain my view of all this mess. ;-)
    The question or topic is not a very simple one to explore or to try to explain. In my mind it is not only about true aurora colors. Neither it is not only about lenses, exposures times and film emulsions of the photographic equipment. Same goes for timing and viewing location and sky condition, it's not only about them...Instead it is about AT LEAST all these things and about human's physical limitation and about psychology in some degree...

    Actual aurora colors: under construction!!!!

    Few words about Pictures

    About all of the pictures have been taken with normal 35mm SLR camera. My camera is a Nikon f-801 (8008 in US?) with few fixed focal lenght lenses (28mm and 50mm). All of the stuff, except 28mm Sigma, is second hand purchases...I mean, they were not new when i bought them.

    Almost all of the pictures since start of the year 2001 have been taken with slide (transparency/positive) films and in most cases the film was Fuji Provia 400F. It can always be debated which one is better...slide or negative and i don't wanna say anything "final" about that. Anyway the first reason why i started to use slide film was the fact that when using negative film, i could not know were my pictures good or not. When using negative films you are completely on a mercy of the person who uses the printing machine. It's very well possible that from a one photolab you will get back prints that look like a piece of..piip..., but if you take those same negatives to another shop and make new prints there. You very well might get back pictures that look infact quite good and which do have completely different colors than the first versions. With slide film there is no such problems! When i get my films back from the shop, i will immediately see are the pictures good or not. That is one of the benefits when using slide film.