The past few winter seasons, Northern Lights Tourism has hit record levels, and well-wrapped tourists from around the world have been observed in the Northern Norwegian winter landscape gazing towards the sky. The social media have been glowing with the dancing green light.
In Northern Norway, the Northern Lights appear almost every night. However, it’s essential that it’s dark, they sky is clear and there is no light pollution.
Some claim that this amazing phenomenon is over for now since the sun is moving into a quieter phase due to the fact that the solar activity experiences 11-year cycles, with a climax 2013-14.We asked Northern Lights Scientist Truls Lynne Hansen, at the Northern Lights Observatory in Tromsø. He was the expert that international celebrity and traveller Joanna Lumley consulted before seeing the Northern Lights in March 2008 (BBC).
Will this mean that Northern Norway will experience less Northern Lights in the years to come? “No, not at all. A Northern Lights climax year only means that the Northern Lights can also be observed in areas further south than Northern Norway.
Northern Norway is situated underneath the Northern Lights Oval and will therefore not be affected by this. Scientists in Northern Finland, close to the Norwegian border, have measured the actual eruptions over a long period of time and through many 11-year cycles and found no correlation between these cycles and what you actually see up here in the Northern Lights oval,” explains Lynne Hansen.
So guests travelling to Northern Norway will have a fair chance of seeing the Northern Lights? “Yes. Probably just as much as before. Joanna Lumley’s celebrated visit in 2008 happened close to the lowest point of the cycle, and she saw a lot of Northern Lights. A solar climax means that the Northern Lights are observed on lower latitudes, even as far south as the Mediterranean. It can only be seen there one or two times per solar maximum, and it will take 11 years for the next chance.”
Or they can go to Northern Norway each winter instead? “Northern Norway and other places along the Northern Lights belt, such as Iceland and parts of Canada and Alaska, will probably see just as much Northern Lights as before.
The Auroral Oval or the Northern Lights belt stretches along the coast of Northern Norway. Because the aurora is trapped on the magnetic field lines, it is most often seen near the north and south poles of Earth. Due to the structure of the magnetosphere, the aurora forms a ring or an oval around each of the poles of Earth and is often brightest and most dramatic near midnight.”
Mike Lockwood, professor of space environment physics, from the University of Reading, has earlier told the BBC that he thinks there is a significant chance that the sun could become increasingly quiet. What will this mean for the Northern Lights? “We cannot be absolutely certain,” begins Mike Lockwood. “But, at present, the aurora sits over Northern Norway in quiet times and only migrates south during solar disturbances. Incidentally auroral displays further south in disturbed times are sluggish and less dynamic than ones to the north in quieter times. So seeing aurora in southern parts is not as impressive nor spectacle as it is in the Arctic. If the sun goes quiet, the aurora will tend to be around the Arctic Circle and then also in Northern Norway.
There will actually be two competing effects. One will make sub-storm disturbances less common in general but the other will make the aurora reside over Northern Norway more of the time. This means people would have to travel to the north to have any chance of seeing the more spectacular aurora anyway,” explains Lockwood.
What are the Northern Lights?
An aurora is a natural light display in the sky particularly in Arctic and Antarctic regions, caused by the collision of energetic charged particles with atoms in the high altitude atmosphere. Aurora Borealis is the international name of the Northern Lights.
The Northern Lights are born on the sun. Electrically charged particles are catapulted off the surface of the sun in the aftermath of powerful solar storms. Some of these particles travel towards earth. When they reach the planet, they are conducted along the protective magnetic fields towards the magnetic North and South Poles. In a ring-shaped pattern around the magnetic poles, the particles encounter the upper layers of the atmosphere. In a process identical to the one that occurs inside a fluorescent light, energy is released as light that we can observe from the earth. Most Northern Lights “displays” take place at a height of around 100 km above the earth’s surface.
(Text by Visit Northern Norway)