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Monday, 24 March 2014

How to… chase the Northern Lights in Trondheim



I was flipping through a travel and cruise magazine and ‘The last chance to see the Northern Lights in Iceland’ caught my eye. I never got to see the Northern Lights in Iceland while exploring the country in summer, but I did get to catch up with this amazing show in Trondheim, Norway and I might have some tips in store for the following season of the Aurora Borealis chase.
First, let’s look at the facts:
§  Month/season: visible September through April/early autumn through early spring; we were there for them at the end of February;
§  Latitude: although claimed by recent studies to be a very flexible aspect, in my opinion, latitude does matter and it increases the chances of spotting the Lights – consequently, a location above 60 degrees north latitude should do it; Trondheim sits at  63° 26';
§  Time of day: the most intense period of the day is said to be between 6:00pm and 4:00am; however, considering Trondheim’s latitude and the Kp-index* registered, try being at your spotting location between 10:00pm and 11:00pm – we did!
§  Geomagnetic storms: there are no guarantees to spotting the Northern Lights; however, geomagnetic storms can literally save the day for those avid Aurora seekers. According to spaceweathermonitor.com, ‘When a CME Solar Flare comes off of the sun that is directed at Earth, it sends an amazing solar wind that reacts with our magnetosphere. This causes an amazing magnetic reaction between our North and South Poles called a Geomagnetic Storm or Geo Storm. When this happens we get the phenomenon we know as Auroras’. *A Kp-index is an indicator of that and it should be at least 2 for Trondheim;
§  Clear skies: you need clear skies both during the day and night to be able to witness the Lights; after a very clear day, we did enjoy some hours of clear night skies when spotting the Lights, but as the sky got cloudier, our chances to see the Aurora diminished.

Our night of MAGIC
Be prepared:
Get tweets. @Aurora_Alerts [and @aurorawatchuk for the United Kingdom]; these are regularly updated accounts, feature the latest information on Aurora alerts and help you out. On our spotting night in Trondheim, the geomagnetic activity was obvious from all those tweets, so we were actually more confident and eager to get to our spotting location and witness the miracle.
Get a smartphone application. Aurora Buddy is free, reliable, and does the job. It sends alerts and when you hit a Kp-index of 5.67 (rising) – like we did – and you get several alerts, you just get your coat, camera, and hit the road.
Try finding a location that overlooks water and is away from city lights. In and around Trondheim, the best locations are Skistua cabin by Gråkallen, Trolla hills west of the city centre, Værnes Airport, and Stjørdal. We chose Lade Path (Ladestien, following Lade Peninsula) and it was quite a spot!
Have many layers on you, plus water and food! Even if it’s not freezing, it’s night time, temperatures are dropping and you will (most of the time) be sitting in the same spot, so many layers are recommended. Have high-calorie snacks and water on you, as the show may take longer than expected [wouldn’t that be nice?].

We were told [by locals and travellers alike] that we were not going to see them, that Trondheim is way south, and that we should head up north in Norway to stand a chance. Well, we proved everybody wrong! With only 2 nights planned in Trondheim, we were extremely lucky indeed, but there is evidence that the Northern Lights are extensively spotted during the past few years at lower latitudes, too. In the end, it was quite a show, one I’ll remember for the rest of my life in terms of excitement, beauty, brightness, and – of course – colours!...

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