In recent years, more and more people have become aware of the natural phenomenon of the northern lights. The green flickering lights that appear in the winter sky cannot be described with words – the northern lights must be experienced!
«Northern lights based tourism has exploded over the last six or seven years. While previously hotels had closed over Christmas, there are now more tourists in Tromsø in the winter than during the summer,» says Kari Jakola, Cabin Crew Supervisor for Widerøe in Tromsø.
Northern lights safari – by plane
Together with some colleagues, she got the idea of offering tourists the opportunity to experience the northern lights from a Widerøe plane.
«It is of course simplest to see the northern lights from the ground. However, if you visit Tromsø on a cloudy day, when it is snowing hard, it will be impossible to see the northern lights – you will then need to get up above the clouds. Of course, it’s not possible to guarantee a natural phenomenon, but if you get up to 20,000 feet, the likelihood of experiencing them is far greater,» says Jakola.
Widerøe is now collaborating with a tour operator on a completely new offering, whereby you can go on a northern lights safari by plane. If you are travelling alone or in a small group, you can sign up for the northern lights safari via Tromsø Budget Tours. It is also possible to charter an entire flight with 39 seats that will take you on an exciting flight in northern lights territory.
Once a suitable height has been reached, the cabin lights will be dimmed in order that you get the best possible view of the northern lights – and you will get a guided tour of some of the finest landscapes Northern Norway has to offer.
Among other things, you will be able to see the Lyngen Alps, and will pass the five biggest islands in Norway – so the tour is an experience, even if you don’t get your longed-for glimpse of the northern lights.
Northern lights on cold, clear winter nights
Tromsø is located slap bang in the middle of the northern lights belt, and it is the perfect base from which to experience the northern lights with your own eyes. They reveal themselves in the night sky on cold, clear nights from the end of October until the beginning of March.
«The advantage of searching for the northern lights from a plane is that we can get away from light pollution, and fly to where the weather is best,» says Ivar Austad Wang, who is a captain for Widerøe in Tromsø. Although he lives in Tromsø and has seen the northern lights many times, he is still fascinated by the phenomenon of the northern lights.
«It’s something magical, it’s “wow»— like nothing you’ve ever seen before,» says his colleague Kari Jakola.
Away from civilization
If you’re lucky with the weather, and the northern lights are strong, you can see them from the city of Tromsø as well. But it is advantageous to get away from civilisation in order to avoid other light.
In and around Tromsø there are also a lot of organised northern lights tours – by boat, car, minibus, dog sled, snowmobile or on skis. Another tip is to hire a car, check the weather forecast and then drive to where there is the best chance of clear weather.
Lots of good destinations
It is of course also possible to see the northern lights at other places in Northern Norway than just Tromsø – for example in Vesterålen, Lofoten or Finnmark. Widerøe flies you to Andøya, Røst, Svolvær and Leknes where the natural phenomenon enhances an already striking landscape. If you go to Kirkenes, you can combine the search for the northern lights with a king crab safari!
Hammerfest and Stokmarknes are other excellent destinations for those looking for a northern lights experience – and Widerøe flies you there. If you want to make sure that you have the greatest possible chance of seeing the northern lights, you can get a northern lights forecast on this website.
Coming from all over the world
It is predominantly foreign tourists who come to Tromsø to see the northern lights. The Japanese in particular are fascinated by the special natural phenomenon.
«Lots of tourists come from Asia hoping to see the northern lights, but also from England, France and Germany. It’s one of the most special things we have to offer here in the north,» says Ivar Austad Wang.
«The sun and moon can be seen everywhere, while the northern lights can only be found around the magnetic North Pole,» adds Kari Jakola.
What are the northern lights?
But what exactly are the northern lights, you might ask. Well, the northern lights are charged particles that are ejected from the sun’s surface after powerful solar storms. Some of these particles head towards earth. When they arrive, they are led along the protective magnetic field towards the magnetic north and south poles. In a process that is identical to what happens inside a fluorescent lamp, the energy is triggered as light that we can see from the ground. Most northern lights occur at a height of around 100 km above the ground.
The northern lights come in a myriad of shapes – as flickering curtains, moving ribbons, or rolling smoke. The colour is usually green, with a narrow pink strip on one side. From time to time, the northern lights explode in a corona, where the northern lights shoot in all directions and all over the sky, in green, violet, white and pink.
Photo at the top: Yngve Sæbbe