Why chasing the Aurora Borealis is Bullshit

Can you chase natures phenomenea? Sometimes yes, the geyser in Yellowstone National Parc for example. But that is one of the few. The Aurora Borealis cannot be forecasted though many (if not all) apps say they can. Well... I've got news for you (and for them for that matter) I have seen lights when they shouldn't have been possible and the other way around. Forecasted and recorded parameters put together in one graph show the freakish behaviour of the solar wind and the Earths magnetic field. There is a small margin in this but to bridge that requires in depth knowledge about the sun and its solar wind and the Earths magnetic field. Nice for me but not for the average bucket lister. If you are interested anyway: look at the bottom of this page for some extra info on these parameters.

So you need three major things in the order as presented for the aurora to be aware of:

  1. No or few clouds though a cloudcover is not necessarily a bad thing. Explanation follows.
  2. An unobstructed view of the sky as large as you can get.
  3. The aurora.

Before I start: If at any time the cloud cover is stable... and so are the holes in it, then go for it and be prepared to drive for longer times and keep an eye on the satellite images during the whole day to get a feeling with the clouds behaviour. Now that being said let's get to the part where it gets from assessment and logical reasoning to desperation.

Clouds have a nasty habit of moving and growing and are the most obstructive aspect while viewing the Aurora. They are your main concern. Why chasing the openings in the clouds in Finnish Lapland is BS I will explain. For other parts of the world I cannot speak but though regions and weather systems differ... clouds do behave largely the same anywhere. The problem of South Lapland is that three regional and totally different weather systems collide at that exact point. Now there is this thing called climate change. It produces massive clouds as the ocean evaporates insane amounts of its water and here in the Netherlands but in fact all over Europe the cloud cover is looking endless. So in any situation spotting the Aurora in a clean sky (preferable for photography) gets harder.

I have been going with Lapland Welcome 13 times in 10 years now, accumulating to 109 days, my 14th time is booked for march 2024, the 15th will be in september 2024 and the 16th and 17th are already determined in 2025.

Lapland Welcome has many safaris but specifically the Northern Lights Tour is the best you can possibly have. Lapland Welcome has a huge private hill which oversees a vast sky of some 8000 km2 with a horizon at some 70 km. As you are on a high hill you will see a sky stretching very far over that already far horizon. This hill has its own micro climate which is able to open a not to thick cloud cover.

The weather system is volatile so chasing holes in the clouds is no realistic option and therefor very bad for the environment. You may want to chase the openings in clouds, well... I wish you all the luck you can get but I sincerely advice against it and... there is nothing in that advice for me. I recommend this company because their location is a hard and solid fact, I do not make any profit from that. The weather is volatile like i said. Sure, I have had nights with only clouds but those cloud fields are extensive and if there is an opening you would see through it from the hill we are on. Or you can take an app on your phone with a satellite image of real time cloud formations, drive like crazy to reach a hole, with all the included risks on traffice, wildlife, yourself and the gap to close. Been there seen it all and didn't do that as it was directly clear to me that it is utter bullshit and very bad for the environment with all the burned diesel.

Chasing the lights is nonsense anyway as they are at a minimum level of 80km up to 350km above the surface of the planet so the circle of visibility is some 600 km on average. If you want to get closer to them you'd have to drive at least 300 km which will take you at least 4 hours and by that time the lights will have moved anyway. So no... chasing is madness unless you can get from under the clouds but as I already said that is hardly an option too. From the Lapland Welcome hill we have seen the lights at distances of 1200+ km away because they are that high above the Earth and the view is unobstructed. Take an easy evening with alternative programs in case either the light won’t show or the clouds are to thick though in that case the clouds will show green themselves on your camera, imagine that! And… warm snacks and beverages as much as you want and... toilets at the base of the hill!

Last words on 'chasing'
Maybe in mountainous terrain like Norways Lofoten chasing the Aurora is an option. The sky is not unobstructed so driving around a mountain ridge may actually give you a better view. But... I find that more irritating than adventurous. I'd rather watch the sky for a long time and see what is happening than get stuffed in a car and race and get stuffed again and... Go to the Lofoten... really I mean that! But beside the landscape being the most beautiful on the planet it is an utterly expensive location. Find out about the prices before you go, not only the hotels but anything...

Now for the die hards:

Ok, parameters to keep an eye on with regards to the conditions of the solar wind and Earths magnetic field

The better site and app is www.poollicht.be or SpaceWeatherLive as a phone app. Same site, it is in Dutch but you'll find out quick enough what is what.

The first Tab Poollichtactiviteit (polar light activity):
Snelheid (speed): 400=normal 900=very fast (speed of the solar wind)
Dichthreid (density) <10 low >60 very high (density of the solarwind in particles per cubic centimeter)
BZ <0 south <-20 strong south (extra explanation)
Bt >=10 moderate >=30 very strong (Interplanetary magnetic field )
Hemisferisch vermogen (Hemispheric power) >50 GW well visible lights

The second Tab Zonneactiviteit (solar activity):
Interesting data but... you need discipline and keep following it. It takes the solar wind roughly and on average 3 days to reach Earth so if you see that a so called Coronal hole is facing Earth directly than be vigilant for the first Tabs data in those three days.

The Bz value needs an extra explanation. When the solar wind is send out from the sun it is ejected or streaming into space by magnetic powers. This gives the solar wind its own magnetism. This can be directed north or south. To connect well with the magnetic field of the Earth which is north, the solar wind needs to be south oriented. So by this theory you can forget about the Aurora when the solar wind is magnetically directed north. This is where things get fuzzy. I have seen Aurorea eminating from north oriented solar winds. And also I have NOT seen Aurorae when the solar winds magnetic field was oriented south AND other parameters were high enough.

There is a thing with the density as well but as we cannot yet explain that to our satisfaction I will leave this one to rest.

So... this messes up the 'forecasts' and quite severely sometimes too. On the other hand... this gives the lights their mysterious personality. See it like a fishing trip. You never know what and how much you are going to catch.

If any.

Latest revision:
13 march 2024
08:32 UTC
09:32 CET
10:32 EET