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What’s the best time of year to spot the Aurora Borealis?

September 30, 2016 Henri Anundi
You know how it needs to be really cold and wintry with lots of snow everywhere for the Northern Lights to come out? No it doesn’t. In fact, the best times for viewing the Aurora Borealis are in the autumn and spring.

The Northern Lights season in Finnish Lapland spans from mid-August until early April. Contrary to popular belief, the best times for spotting the Auroras are at the beginning and end of the season.

According to Researcher Noora Partamies at the University Centre in Svalbard and formerly of the Finnish Meteorological Institute, times around the spring and autumn equinoxes (around 20th March and 22nd September, respectively) are most favourable for solar wind energy transmission to Earth’s near-space environment.

– Auroral storms can be stronger in the autumn due to solar wind properties, Partamies says.

Statistically, the Northern Lights can be seen on every other night, or even on three out of four nights, during the season in Finnish Lapland. This means the total figure of Aurora nights per year can rise up to 150.

– The statistics are drawn up from ground observations in the last decades. The most common obstacle for spotting the Northern Lights is weather, Partamies says.

The total figure of Aurora nights per year can rise up to 150.

Local photographer: autumn nights are the best

In Rovaniemi, locals have long favoured autumn as the best time of year for Northern Lights viewing. Reasons are simple and practical: skies tend to be clearer in autumn than in winter, and nights are darker without snow.

– The best time is from mid-August, when the nights start getting dark, until first snow falls (in October or November). Snowfall characterizes much of early and midwinter, which means it’s cloudy most of the time, says Jani Ylinampa, a local photographer with a fondness for the Auroras.

– The nights are clear in spring, too, but they get brighter really quickly, adds Ylinampa.

In the autumn, nights aren’t yet freezing, and many spots are more easily accessed with no snow. Bodies of water are still free of ice.

– Calm water reflects the Northern Lights spectacularly. The moment just after twilight, with the Auroras starting to appear, is especially beautiful, hints Ylinampa.

Auroras in Rovaniemi: on 40 percent of clear nights

The average occurrence of the Northern Lights depends on latitude. On clear nights, the chances of seeing the Northern Lights in the Rovaniemi area is around 40 percent, Partamies calculates.

– For the optimal viewing experience, it’s best to find a spot away from artificial lights of the city and traffic. The human eye needs about half an hour’s adjustment period for best night vision. The best viewing spots are ones with an open view of the northern horizon, tips Partamies.

Autumn days are crisp and clear, perfect for hiking and finding Aurora viewing spots, and autumn leaf colour guarantees a spectacular natural phenomenon in daytime.

For more on the Northern Lights, the Finnish Meteorological Institute’s Auroras Now! service is a great source for information on space weather and predicting the Auroras, magnetic disturbance levels, all-sky camera images, previous Auroras, and more.

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