Chasing the Northern Lights – Part II – Guest Post

This is the second (and final) part of the guest post by my friend Sownak Roy from http://doesnotxsist.blogspot.in/. You can read the first part of the post here.

I woke up to a new day, well, actually a Polar Night. Being inside the Arctic Circle in December means that the dawn is at 10 a.m. and it remains like that till 3 p.m. The sun is not visible, and it is not complete darkness as many of us tend to believe. The skies were clearer today, which meant that the temperature would be getting subzero even during the day.

After a breakfast of coffee and soupy noodles and a hot bath, I was ready with my 5 layers of clothing and the synthetic fur hat. The outside door handle had ice on the inside, which is a common sign that the temperatures were far below zero during the night.

First stop was the Arctic Cathedral/ Ishavskatedralen. Unfortunately it was closed due to Christmas preparations, but I was happy taking a few shots around the Church, for myself as well as for the other tourists. The walk back over the Tromsø Bridge was challenging. The ice and the slope of the bridge was quite a challenge to handle.

Back in the island of Tromsøya, lunch was at the northernmost Burger King. It wasn’t anything special, but they do have good free Wi-Fi. The next interesting building was the public library/bibliotek. It was good to be inside; when the temperatures are sub-zero, there is a limit to how long you can stay outside even if you are wearing the best clothes.

I was back to the apartment to get my camera gear as well as add a few more clothing on me. The aurora forecast was good, and I hoped with all my heart that the skies are clear.

As suggested by my host, I headed to the south of the island, where the beach area of Folkeparken provides a nice place to view the Lights as it is completely dark. It was a long walk in the cold, but I reached the place and was happy to find a wooden picnic table; happy because it means I would not have to sit on the frozen ground. It was 6 p.m. already. The best time to catch the Lights is between 6 p.m. – 12 a.m. when the sky is the darkest in this part of the World.

The two hours wait in the cold was worth it. Though I had some whiskey to keep me warm, nothing was more welcome than the first sight of a green band across the sky. It was not noticeable much at first, and looked like a faint cloud coloured by the light pollution, but once the realization set in, I was the happiest man on the earth, or at least in the whole of Folkeparken.

The Aurora Borealis is caused by the collision of solar wind and magnetospheric charged particles with the high altitude atmosphere. The solar wind which reached today to earth’s atmosphere actually left the sun about 3 days ago. These winds consist of free ions, which get attracted by earth’s magnetic field, and collide with the atmospheric gases, mostly oxygen and nitrogen and alter their atoms. But these altered atoms are unstable and then they regain the original atomic mass, they release the energy through light and sound. The sound does not reach us (sometimes they do) as it gets heavily diffused by the atmosphere, but the light reaches us as light travels much faster than sound and so diffusion is less. And that is how we see the Northern Lights. The green light is because of higher oxygen atoms at lower atmosphere.

There aren’t words to describe the feeling of watching the Aurora dancing in the sky with your own eyes. But one thing is for sure, you will undoubtedly have the feeling that your own life and problems are so small, that we as human beings are so small, in this huge astronomical environment. The photos here should speak for themselves.

Dance of the green lights
Dance of the green lights
Northern Lights against the ink blue sky
Northern Lights against the ink blue sky
The Aurora Borealis
The Aurora Borealis
The green light is because of higher oxygen atoms at lower atmosphere
The green light is because of higher oxygen atoms at lower atmosphere
Northern Lights
Northern Lights
The sky painted green - Northern LIghts
The sky painted green – Northern LIghts
Northern Lights
Northern Lights
Northern Lights
Northern Lights

At the end of it, the feeling was so content, so peaceful, so satisfying. I felt that I was the luckiest person; lucky to watch the most extravagant natural activity, to be able to feel the enormity of the Universe (or Multiverse) and to witness this phenomenon which has happened even before any life existed on earth, and will keep on happening even after all life is extinct from earth.

Photography Tips:

  • Tripod is a must.
  • Highest ISO setting, use RAW mode so that noise can be adjusted later.
  • Wide angle lens (you would not want to miss the environment).
  • Lowest aperture (you want the images to be sharp).
  • Shutter Time should be 20-25 seconds (Can be less if you have very bright lights).
  • Remote shutter control is optional, though it gives you more control.
  • No light from anywhere near (do not check your mobile).

Basically it is same as shooting fireworks or lightning.

Dressing Tips:

  • Head: Furry hat (a woolen hat which covers ears should do).
  • Upper body: full sleeve Cotswool undershirt, full sleeve shirt, woolen jumper, air-jacket. (the outer jacket should be as fluffy as possible, the more air, the more warm; woolen jumper is a must, acrylics don’t work)
  • Lower body: Cotswool long john, thickest jeans, Quechua ski trousers. (Any good quality ski trousers will work; this keeps you safe from the snow).
  • Feet: Cotton socks, woolen socks, 200g thinsulate snow boots (first layer cotton keeps the feet from smelling; you may add spikes, but it is difficult to walk with spikes when there is no ice).

Have you ever seen the Northern Lights phenomenon? Leave a comment and let me know.

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