Under the Arora

“Look up,” his voice ringing through the clear night, “she is right above our heads, she is dancing!”

We are perched on the rocks between the powder white snow and the freezing water of a northern fjord a few hours drive from Tromso, Norway.

We crane our necks to stare in awe at the sky, as the green glow stretches from the frozen mountain peaks shining ghostly white under the full moon, and drifts, shivering across the sky.

Constantly shifting, she ebbs and flows like quicksand between the constellations, disappearing only to reappear in a new direction, painting the sky in a fleeting incandescent  ink.

Jessica Rhian photography

We had left the city of Tromsø a few hours earlier that night, with hopes of seeing the lights kept low, on a tight leash. It’s joked that Aurora is like any woman, driven by whim and prone to fickle changes in behaviour. She’s difficult to predict, and you need to get lucky.

The lights are the result of a specific cocktail of environmental and meteorological conditions, that when mixed just right- will result in the phenomenon. There are many tales of people setting out to chase the lights, night after night, and not a flicker.

In short, the sight is a result of particles, which are hurled from the sun’s solar storms, and caught in the Earth’s electromagnetic fields. The particles are drawn down to the poles, and here they collide with atoms in our atmosphere- creating energy that is emitted as light. Green for oxygen, red for nitrogen.

From below, when conditions are right, we can see a breathtaking aurora. The dancing lights.

And we got lucky. We had a clear night, below freezing temperatures and a sun storm a few days prior.

From the insulation of our snow suits (and about ten other layers under that), we watched as the skies came alive. The lights started softly, a haze similar to a strand of light cloud cover against the starry sky. Even at this tiny flicker, we stood watching with jaws dropped, small puffs of steam obscuring the view with each breath.

For so many of us, this sight has been a far off wonder that we thought we might never see. Yet there, hovering above the mountain fjords of Norway, a green glow – that could be nothing but the collisions of solar wind particles against our planet’s atmosphere- was growing brighter.

And she grew stronger, leaping across the sky, creating a river of twisting green light above our heads.

The best way to see the full spectacle is to lie on the ground, face to face with the heavens. It was somewhere around -20 degrees Celsius by this point and the beach we were on smelled faintly of rotting fish and livestock manure (I like to think this might be from moose or reindeer nearby). Embraced in nature, we lit a small camp fire on the rocks to thaw our fingers and faces and once again turned our attention to the skies.

In the sub-freezing cold, the lights danced from one side of the sky to the other, and for around 3 hours, we were mesmerised.

We were lucky. We were lucky to have the conditions just right to see the Aurora. But even without that, the experience of lying on the beach, ice glistening from the seaweed washed ashore, the campfire crackling and throwing shadows against the snow, the mountains glowing under the full moon- it was incredible. To be surrounded by nature- the stars, the mountains, the fish head and the moose of my imagination, that would have been enough. To see the lights was the magic on top of an incredible night in the Norwegian natural landscape.

Thanks Norway, takk.

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