Photo: Iurie Belegurschi and Dida G. Heilmann
Winter nights in Greenland are not just dark
There is nothing as beautiful as the Northern lights dancing across the night skies. Regardless of whether they are »only« shades of green and yellow, or at times when they are in all the colours of the rainbow.
The Northern lights – Aurora Borealis – shimmer over the sky like long curtains. They can light up the night skies of Greenland for hours, while they change in intensity and colour.
Some of the Greenlandic legends say the Northern lights are the dead, playing football with a skull. Others say you can be caught up by the Northern lights, if you whistle at them.
Season from August - September to March
It is the sun’s surface activity that creates magnetic particles in the sky and increases the amount of Northern lights. Greenland usually has a lot of Northern lights, but after bigger so-called solar flares there are periods each year with more Northern lights than usual.
Greenland is the same size as Western Europe and the season for Northern lights starts in August in Southern Greenland, and a little later in areas further north.
There are magnetic particles in the sky all year round, but from April the light is so bright in Greenland, that it is no longer possible to see the Northern lights.
Explosion of colors
Back to the most colorful version. There are not many that are lucky to see, but when it happens, it's like a party fireworks of colors. A bit like a reverse rainbow, because the colors are deeper, darker and without the transparency in the rainbow. Moreover, there is not one arch, but a large number of wavy lights.
Personally, I am very pleased to see the most normal northern lights, namely the green and yellow stripes in the sky in countless many shades.
I would recommend that you see Northern lights as a chance and do not take it for granted. I have always wanted to see a living polar bear. Perhaps a stupid wish, considering how dangerous it may be. But have you traveled 1000 miles or more - it's okay you want to see northern lights.
When it's only a chance, and no guarantee, how do you improve your chances?
I would recommend you choose one of the tours that advertise with the opportunity to see northern lights. It may sound obvious, but the tours are designed and done by tour operators who have built up an experience for many years, where and when the odds are best.
In addition, they are on their toes to find northern lights for you. They live by positive reviews and will do their best to make the trip a good experience.
After living in Greenland for many years, and being lucky to travel a lot around the country, you might think that you are tired of seeing northern lights, or just looking up when it's in all colors. But I never get tired of looking at the northern lights. It makes the sky alive in a very unique way, and you get a little humble towards one of nature's very large spetacular phenomena, no matter how many or few colors the northern lights appear in.
If you visit one of the world's many capitals, I can recommend looking up. If you only see the shops at street level, you'll miss out on fun balconies, gardens on roof terraces, ornaments and ancient architecture, with little towers, arches, vaults and much more.
The same applies to the northern lights. One has to look up to see it. It may sound obvious, but you can easily forget about it when driving in a city, with plenty of things to pay attention to. But whether you're driving or walking, stop, go outside and look up.
For example, in front of a house with very much light, or under a street lamp, the light 'pollution' can prevent you from seeing the northern lights. You should rather go away from artificial light sources. Out in the mountains it's amazing. Starry sky and green waves of northern lights pulsating like a living organism.
Most of us are busy when we are on vacation. We will experience the most of the country in which we are. We go on day trips, city walks, hiking in the mountains and at restaurants in the evening.
When it's getting dark in the evening in Greenland, remember that in principle there is always a chance to see the northern lights. It's not waiting for you. If there is northern lights 10 minutes very early in the evening, then it's the way it is. Is there a break between food dishes? Running out - past the smokers - and away from the restaurant light. Stand with your eyes closed for a moment and turn them to darkness. Then, look away from all artificial light. Maybe you are lucky.
It is impossible to make a deal with the northern lights. It would be fantastic. Imagine a "light advertisement" that said "Tonight, the Northern Lights plays from 10 am to 12 midnight." But that's unfortunately not so.
If you are going on a daily excursion and can not keep awake all night, you can set your alarm clock until midnight and get up and look for the northern lights. If you stay in a hotel, you may also ask if they will wake you up, if there is a northern light. But, of course, the most sure is always to have a plan for yourself.
Capturing the Northern lights
Taking pictures of northern lights can be very difficult. Especially if there are other light sources around you, that you can not escape.
It usually requires more than a mobile phone camera, as a minimum a good SLR camera, and insight into low intensity light shooting in the dark.
Everybody can learn it, but it's another article. Instead, I will say to all of you who visit Greenland and see northern lights. Go ahead. Take the pictures you can. It does not matter if you take the perfect picture, if it helps you remember the moment.
And my point is to be in the present. Enjoy the Northern Lights while it is there. Experience it with the eye and not through a camera lens.
5 Tips on how to catch northern lights
The best way to find out if there is northern lights is to ask someone locally. But if they are not sure, then here are some things you can consider.
1. Check the local weather forecast. There must be clear weather in order to see the northern lights.
2. Look out into the sky. Is it dark and black, full of clouds? Does a strong wind blow? How much is the likelihood of clarity in the weather?
3. Find a place outside, without much artificial light. Maybe somewhere on the mountain behind the place you stay. You may need to move further afield. Remember to step outside the restaurant between dishes - you might be lucky.
4. Check the internet. There are several good sites that provide forecasts for Aurora Borealis / Northern lights. Eg. aurora-service.org and aurora-service.eu
5. Bring warm clothes. It will be a shame if there is a northern light and you have to go inside because you are freezing.
See more pictures and read Local blogs about Northern Lights experiences