Features

The beautiful sky at night

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Photo: Alpi Rimppi

Beginning of December in Southern Finland. I am driving home late with my mum when we see something green shimmering in the northern sky.

My first thought is that the lights from the skiing centre nearby are reflecting from the clouds. But after I remember that the skiing centre has not yet opened I come to the conclusion that those lights must be northern lights.

It is difficult to make my mum to concentrate on driving when the lights grow stronger and greener. Like velvet curtains they have all the different shades of green displayed at the same time.

Those colours begin to dance when the curtain moves. Finally we pull over to admire them.

I often hear people telling me how they would love to see northern lights someday. It doesn’t matter where those people came from – seeing an aurora seems to be a dream shared by Americans, Kyrgyz, the British…

Even though tourists all over the world travel to Finland to see the spectacle in the sky, I have many Finnish friends who have never seen northern lights. After stopping to admire the sky I messaged my friends telling them to go outside if they wanted to see auroras.

My message didn’t make much difference. None of my friends saw northern lights that night. They didn’t happen to look up to the sky and missed them.

Basically auroras dance year-round in the auroral zone which circles the magnetic pole.

Whether we can see them or not depends on clearness and darkness of the sky. Heavy cloud blanket blocks visibility to the sky, and light pollution from cities make it difficult to see auroras even if they were right above us.

Because the summer nights are bright, at high latitudes it is more probable to see auroras during the winter when the sun hardly rises above the horizon. Cold winter nights are best for spotting auroras because the sky clears up when the temperature drops.

Every year I spent some time in the northern part of Finland, Lapland, which is situated in the auroral zone. On one of those cold nights in Lapland I got to admire northern lights for the second time this winter.

A nearly full moon lit up the snow below while the northern lights painted the sky with green stripes. That time I saw some purple in them as well.

Auroras are also not only Northerners’ treasures. There are auroras in the south as well but they are called aurora australis or the southern lights. Basically they are the same phenomena happening directly on the other side of the globe.

Sometimes geomagnetic storms bring auroras down from the poles to the lower latitudes where they would not normally occur. That’s when the northern lights can be seen also in Scotland.

In fact the southern part of Finland lies on the same latitude as the northernmost islands of Scotland. It does not belong to the auroral zone but I have seen auroras there as well.

Those who wish to spot auroras in Scotland can find aurora forecast websites such as aurora-service.eu or AuroraWatch UK useful. They show the activity of auroras and the probability of auroras occurring in different latitudes. Some of the websites even offer aurora alerts so that you will not miss them.

Alongside auroras there are many other beautiful phenomena in the sky. This winter I saw cloud iridescence for the first time.

That is a phenomenon where clouds turn to different pastel colours similar to colours in oil film on water. It looks like there are many small rainbows caught in the clouds.

One other morning I admired the sun and its halo rising behind the field next to my house. Some lucky ones were able to observe the blood moon last November and also the solar eclipse took place last year.

Not all the beautiful phenomena are rare. I’m sure everyone has seen a gorgeous sunsets and sunrises when the sky is dyed with red, pink and orange or admired dark, clear starry sky at least once in their life.

The sky is interesting. The sky is beautiful. Even if you are not in a place where you can see auroras you can see many other interesting sights in the sky.

And if you do go to a place where you can see auroras, don’t forget to look up.

 

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