Northern lights, Aurora borealis for the initiated, are not a very common sight in Turku but can nevertheless happen once in a while. Here are some tips on how to enjoy them best, and also, how to know they are coming.
What are they?
Northern lights are one of the most beautiful and majestic natural phenomenon one can experience in Finland. They can be seen in the night sky and may vary considerably in shape, size, and color. As for how they are created, here are some explanations provided by the Northern Lights Center of Canada:
The Northern Lights are actually the result of collisions between gaseous particles in the Earth’s atmosphere with charged particles released from the sun’s atmosphere. Variations in colour are due to the type of gas particles that are colliding. The most common auroral color, a pale yellowish-green, is produced by oxygen molecules located about 60 miles above the earth. Rare, all-red auroras are produced by high-altitude oxygen, at heights of up to 200 miles. Nitrogen produces blue or purplish-red aurora.
So in addition of being so beautiful, northern lights are also a very interesting natural phenomenon. Keep that in mind next time you admire their beauty. They can also be frightening, being the demonstration of powerful magnetic storms that sometimes result in power outages.
Yes, there is such a thing! For those who really want to see northern lights in Turku, it is possible to check in real time the likeliness of seeing aurora. The tool is available here (and on facebook), and provides a detailed review of the different factors affecting northern lights. The estimated aurora level is probably the most relevant measure it provides, however, measuring the solar activity on a scale from 0 to 9.
From experience, it is really worth braving the cold only from 7, and if you are particularly happy in your couch only 8-9 levels are worth leaving the comfort of your home. You can also plan ahead using the website since it provides a 3-days forecast using the same 0-9 scale. One should also look at the weather forecast before getting too excited since clouds will completely ruin your chancing of seeing anything.
Tip: You can also evaluate the intensity of the northern lights outside by counting the number of attempted photographs of the phenomenon on social media. Do not expect to be overwhelmed, however, the immense majority of cameras cannot do justice to the magnificence of the Finnish sky.
Northern lights hunting spots
Once the northern lights show up, it is essential to find an appropriate spot to enjoy the view. Due to the proximity of most student housing locations to the city lights, any spot which minimizes light pollution will do. Most important is the fact that northern lights, as their name suggests, can mostly be seen originating from the north. As a result, light pollution should be avoided as much as possible in this direction.
Around the Student Village area, some of the best spots to enjoy this natural spectacle include the biking/walking paths on the northern side of the river (this is my personal favorite). Any sufficiently open and dark space will do the job, however. You can also venture further, past the Halinen dam and close to the river to find excellent view points.
Is it worth leaving my warm bed?
If the forecast reaches 8 or 9, without the shadow of a doubt (provided the sky is clear, that is). For those who haven’t had the chance to see them yet, think of fireworks on steroids. It a marvelous and humbling experience, that should definitely be on you bucket list in Finland.
Considering that northern lights are not seen so regularly in Turku, you might also not get a second chance. And as mentioned above, photos on social media will only give you a highly unsatisfactory glimpse of the phenomenon.
In any case, here as some shots taken with a very good camera, which will give you a taste of what you might get. All the photos in this blog were taken on the 7th of October 2015, a particularly impressive night.
N.B. A special thank you to Pablo for the photos, they are as close a pictures can get to the real thing.