We saw Aurora Borealis

by | Sep 28, 2020 | Diaries, Europe, Finland

Yesterday we saw Aurora Borealis for the very first time. From 62nd parallel and inside the Koli National Park of Finland. 

We were wondering all these days – Vula in particular – that sooner than later we would see northern lights.

Personally I was not confident it might happen so early – we are still at the 62nd parallel – but in anyway we downloaded My Aurora Forecast app on my iPhone. We started followed the updates and saw that Aurora was moving further to the north, around the arctic circle of Russia and Canada. 

This wonderful celestial phenomenon is usually visible near the poles. It is something like a solar wind, which takes smoke – like shapes and green, yellow to white colours (and not only) in the upper atmosphere during a clear night from autumn to winter months. 

“Auroras are the result of disturbances in the magnetosphere caused by solar wind. These disturbances are sometimes strong enough to alter the trajectories of charged particles in both solar wind and magnetospheric plasma. These particles, mainly electrons and protons, precipitate into the upper atmosphere (thermosphere/exosphere)”. This is how the phenomenon is described in Wikipedia. 

The visual result is spectacular, that’s why watching the northern lights has become part of the so called “bucket list” of million of people in the era of instagram. Many would say “I’d rather see it once before I die”. 

Yesterday night we arrived late at Koli National Park, we crossed the central little port and found a small opening to park and sleep, right on the gravel road that crossed the park from north to south and right next to the lake. 

When it got really dark, I got out of the Iveco to take some pictures of it with the lake at the backdrop. I did some shots of the rising moon as well and went back to prepare for sleep.

As soon as Vula and Anastasia were ready to sleep on the double bed (we change places sometimes to satisfy the child’s request), I got out again with my Sony a99, the tripod and a cheap chinese intervalometer I have. It was a mild night with incredibly high temperatures for the season and the place. 

I was taking pictures with 120” exposure and at one point I saw a green colour on the sky to the west. “This must be my idea”, I said to myself, “my eyes are now sensitive in the dark and see different things”. But… 

In a few seconds a green celestial wave appeared behind the Iveco and without checking the camera’s settings I immediately pressed the bulb button. I had preselected 400 ISO and f4.0 – not the wider in my Sigma lens. After a minute of exposure (64”) I left the button and here was my first ever Aurora image. 

I could see that the lights were moving pretty fast, so I changed position while shouting the girls to come out and see it. In seconds they were out in their pyjamas and – yes – 8-year old Anastasia encountered Aurora Borealis for the first time. Now she knows that it’s not a fantasy but a reality.

Vula saw that moment that the iPhone app had just sent a notification about high probability of northern lights visibility. 

The following 3 photos I had the time to take till the lights went off, where from the only opening of the road to the lake, without trees in between. 

The lights were at NW and all the photos were taken with pretty much the same exposure of 58”- 64” and aperture 4.0 and 400 ISO sensor sensibility. 

The pictures I took a little bit later had longer exposure (74” to 112”) as it was darker. Checking them I saw the northern lights green colour, while it was not  anymore visible with naked eye. Let me tell you here that I am daltonic, with a certain difficulty in distinguishing different shades of red and green.  

Well, I think we will have a new hobby for the nights to come. I haven’t studied Aurora photography in depth, neither I am specialised in astrophotography but I will do my best to improve the results.

I feel lucky in anyway we could see the northern lights so early, while we have at least 2 months ahead around the Arctic circle. The visual impact was more spectacular of what I expected – I thought that most published photos were extremely photoshopped. 

They are but the lights are just spectacular with naked eye. It is a moving phenomenon, so it is interesting to film it but I don’t think that my camera’s ISO’s are enough for this. 

In the picture – even without photoshop editing (look the difference in the images) – the lights are even more spectacular, probably because of the long exposure. As you realise, this has been an unforgettable night thanks to this celestial gift by mother nature._Akis Temperidis

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