'Hunting season' for the northern lights

Where and when to see one of the most spectacular atmospheric phenomena

08.09.21 // The northern (or polar) lights are certainly one of the most amazing and beautiful atmospheric phenomena. That's why more and more travellers head to the Arctic every year in search of this natural wonder. By the way, if you are one of them, you should plan your trip now — the 'hunting season' for the northern lights is about to open.

Best View

The polar lights can mainly be seen in the northern regions of both hemispheres of the Earth. In Eurasia, it is most often observed between latitudes 67 and 70 degrees north, with the glow seen further south during periods of solar activity. However, the higher odds of getting closer to the cherished goal are in favour of those who go looking for the northern lights to the Arctic, namely to the Murmansk region, the Yamal-Nenets and Khanty-Mansi Areas, Chukotka or the Komi Republic.

For those living in the European part, Murmansk is the best option. The easiest way to get here is by train or plane.

But the city itself will only be the first stop for the tourists. The next step is to leave the populated areas with artificial lights behind.

A surrounded by nature hotel with transparent walls and ceilings would be a good choice of accommodation, leaving no chance to miss the glow in the skies. In Arctic tourist-oriented hotels, guests may even be woken up in the middle of the night (upon request) if the northern lights have started.

Watch Season

The northern lights have their own seasons. They occur less frequently in summer and winter, and more frequently — in autumn and spring. The best chance of observing the phenomenon is on the days closest to the vernal (20 March) and autumnal (22 or 23 September) equinoxes. However, it is possible to see the northern lights in the Russian Arctic at any time between the end of August and April. The main thing here is to have patience.

The briefest northern lights last only a few dozen minutes and can easily be missed. On the other hand, the sky glows for hours during high season, making it hard miss the bright lights.

Weather Forecast and Northern Lights Forecast

Trips to see the northern lights involve the risk of not seeing anything. For example, it is unlucky if the clouds cover the entire sky, as the northern lights occur at very high altitudes of 100 km and more above the ground. Therefore, when a trip is organised for 'the northern lights hunt', it is worth spending a sufficient period of time in the north and waiting for clear weather.

Scientists have not only been able to predict changes in the weather in the Earth's atmosphere, but they can also identify periods of peak solar activity. Those who want to spot the northern lights should check the Kp-index (describes the disturbance of the Earth's magnetic field; it ranges from 0 to 9) on the internet. For example, you can do it here or here. If this index is 2, there will be no northern lights (to be more precise, of course, there will be northern lights, but only people in the Arctic Ocean will be able to see them). If it rises to 3, the wonder of nature can be spotted at the latitude of Murmansk, and if it rises to 6 (which is very rare), you can see it in the Moscow area.

Getting Ready to 'Hunt'

In practice, the preparations for the 'northern lights hunt' look like this. Study the weather forecast carefully. Note that Murmansk will have clear skies in two days, and the northern lights are expected. Get the tickets and go straight there. Or another option — we see that it will be cloudy in Murmansk all week, but due to a solar flare the lights can be seen further south — in Belomorsk, and clear weather is expected there. So, we change plans and go to the outskirts of this town. Most importantly, don't forget to bring warm clothes.

How much does the Northern Lights cost

In any of the Arctic regions we've already covered, tour operators can help you find the northern lights. The price of such a trip can vary from RUB 4,000 to RUB 40,000. The price depends on what is included in the tour package (the hunt, visits to reindeer herding camps, tasting national dishes, excursions and other activities) and the duration.

Budget car tours are the most popular. The guides check the forecasts, identify the spot where the lights will be best seen and take you there in a jeep. It could be a hundred kilometres from the starting point or even further away. If there are no lights, the departure is postponed to the next night, if again it fails, to another day.

Such 'hunt' is inexpensive, but there are no guarantees either.

If you like this article, consider subscribing to our newsletter. We will send you the most interesting stories.

Read also
The Sakha (Yakutia) Republic Tiksi: an outpost of civilisation in the Arctic

Port, sea and the history of the North Sea Route

Murmansk Oblast Walking around Kandalaksha: a northern city with a rich history

What to see in the city founded in 1526

The Komi Republic Ust-Tsilma Gorka: a celebration of Arctic round dances

Visiting Old Believers in the Komi Republic