Autumn equinox gives green light to aurora hunters

Saturday, 18th May 2019

Destination Specialist

nellim wilderness hotel

Summer officially turns to autumn around 21-23 September each year, marking the autumn equinox. While the aurora borealis is visible from late August, it is the equinox that gives this cosmic light show an extra boost often producing some of the best northern lights activity. Of course, it’s impossible to predict exactly when the aurora will appear – and if you head into the aurora zone any time between late August and mid-April you chance to experience nature’s greatest light show – but there is something about the equinox that auroras seem to love.

Successful aurora hunting basically boils down to science, timing, location and a spot of luck. The science bit is fiendishly complicated. It involves all kinds of solar shenanigans and molecular mayhem. Apologies if you’re a budding astrophysicist, but let’s sum it up with the following:

  1. A solar flare erupts from the sun’s surface
  2. Electrons and protons hurtle towards earth
  3. Some sneak into our atmosphere
  4. They collide with oxygen and nitrogen molecules
  5. The reactions cause light – or an aurora

Find out more about the science behind the aurora »

norway aurora northern lights mark

As for timing, that’s partly where the autumn equinox comes in. The northern lights are doing their psychedelic thing year round, but it’s only when the nights get dark enough (from autumn onwards) that we can actually see them. According to brainy people at NASA, the equinoxes are also a time when geomagnetic storms – or disturbances in the Earth’s magnetic field – are strongest, and that can lead to bigger, brighter auroras.

But such is the unpredicatable nature of the aurora borealis there are still not guarantees that these periods increase your chances over the rest of the season. Providing you have clear skies, any winter’s night between September (or even late August) and mid-April can suddenly glow green and crimson as delicate strands of the aurora borealis begin flirting with the stars.

iceland hotel ranga northern lights

Wouldn’t it be wonderful, then, if there was somewhere way up north – say in Swedish Lapland – bang in the middle of the auroral oval (the sweet spot for the northern lights) where the night skies were usually clear and you could perhaps stand on top of a mountain, miles from any artificial light, to get a really good view of the night sky?

Well, it just so happens that such a place does exist. It’s called Abisko National Park. Not only does Abisko have more nights of clear skies than anywhere in Europe, but its Aurora Sky Station provides the perfect grandstand for aurora seekers.

Our three-night break, Aurora Nights at Abisko, puts you right in the thick of the aurora action. You are based just a short walk from the chairlift that whisks you up to the Sky Station, while days are filled with winter activities like snowshoeing and ice climbing.

sweden abisko national park aurora watching pr

It’s worth noting that seasoned aurora hunters are not nocturnal creatures. They don’t cower from daylight or obsess (too much) about solar flare forecasts. A successful aurora adventure places equal emphasis on mushing huskies, leaping on a snowmobile or trying out any of the other daytime activities available in Lapland and Iceland during winter.

Not far from Abisko, the Icehotel is not only a bucket list place to stay, but it is also a hub for winter activities. Our classic 3-night Icehotel Break offers optional activities ranging from ice sculpting to a snowmobile safari tracking down the northern lights. For the best of both worlds, there’s also the Northern Lights, Abisko and Icehotel short break. And our exclusive Iceflight direct from Heathrow to Kiruna offers the quickest way to get you straight to the heart of Swedish Lapland.

sweden lapland icehotel entrance exterior aurora rth

Combos are a great way to broaden your experiences and widen your net for that elusive aurora sighting. Abisko and the Icehotel combine well with Tromso or the Lofoten Islands in Norway. We also offer a range of northern lights holidays in other parts of Swedish Lapland, including fabulous wilderness retreats in forests near Lulea and along the frozen shores of the Gulf of Bothnia.

In Finnish Lapland, meanwhile, you can seek out the aurora borealis from the comfort of a log cabin with an open fire and private sauna, or check in to a boutique wilderness hotel or glass igloo.

Iceland also bathes in the limelight when it comes to aurora adventures. A word of caution though. Don’t be tempted by low cost ‘northern lights city breaks’ to Reykjavik. Artificial light pollution and built-up areas are the aurora hunter’s worst enemies – blinding you to the northern lights and blocking out the night sky. Our collection of rural northern lights holidays is based on staying in countryside hotels where the night skies are blissfully big and dark. Choose between self-drive breaks and small-group escorted holidays. Our popular 3-night Aurora Nights is based at stylish Hotel Ranga which offers an aurora wake-up service, a fine-dining restaurant with panoramic views, a state-of-the-art telescope and – good heavens above – outdoor hot tubs!

iceland snaefellsnes grundarfjordur aurora over kirkjufell rth

You’ll still need a little luck to witness those dancing green lights. But one thing is certain – with such a varied and exciting range of aurora adventures available, you’ll have a lot of fun trying!

Experience your very own northern lights adventure

It’s impossible to predict exactly when the aurora will appear. However, at Discover the World we’ve spent over 35 years refining the art of the aurora adventure. From Finland to Norway, Sweden to Iceland as well as Canada and Alaska, we have discovered the best places to see this incredible phenomenon and we’re excited to share them with you. Our northern lights holidays are designed to maximise your chances of witnessing this spellbinding phenomenon.

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