One of the most striking features of Finland is light. When the endless sunshine of summer gives way to dark winter, the Northern Lights appear like magic and illuminate the sky.
The further north you go, the more likely you are to see the Aurora Borealis – in Finnish Lapland they can appear 200 nights a year. In Helsinki and the south, the Aurorae can be seen for about 20 nights each winter, away from the city lights.
Seeing the Northern Lights requires ample darkness and clear skies, making late fall, winter, and early spring (September to March) the most favorable times. The best time of day is an hour or two before and after midnight. The spectacle can last 20 seconds or hours.
Historically, the Finns believed that the Aurora Borealis – the Northern Lights – was caused by the fire fox, a creature that ran through the snow so fast that its paws sparked the night sky. In fact, the Finnish word for the northern lights is “revontulet,” which translates as “fox fires.” Other mythology of the Northern Lights in Finland claimed that the aurora was the water mist sprayed into the night sky by whales.
In fact, the Northern Lights are caused by the sun. When particles are emitted from the sun and hit atoms in Earth’s atmosphere, these atoms light up, producing the beautiful colors we see in the aurora borealis. The classic name for the Northern Lights was coined by Galileo and means ‘north wind’. Since you can only see the aurora borealis in the northern hemisphere, and it dances like the wind in the sky, this name makes sense too!
From our sun, electrically charged particles are constantly flung into space, called the solar wind. This happens at an average speed of 400 km/sec, but can vary between 250 and 2,500 km/sec. A small part of these particles will reach our earth after a journey of about 150 million kilometers.
The best time to see the Northern Lights
In Finland, the best time to see the Aurora Borealis is in late autumn, winter and early spring, between September 21 and March 21. However, there are no guarantees that you will actually see the stunning spectacle at Northern Lights destinations. Clouds and a full moon often obscure visibility. As magical as the natural phenomenon is, so special is the unpredictability. There is a website that predicts when you can best see the Northern Lights: Aurora forecast .