Under Norwegian Skies
By TQ Astronomer Paul Deans
Norway is renowned for many things: Magnificent fjords. Fierce Viking warriors. The hardy Sami people herding reindeer across the tundra. Legendary explorer Roald Amundsen. Two creative geniuses named Edvard: Grieg and Munch. And, of course, the celestial lights that often dance across the vast northern skies: the aurora borealis.
The aurora’s eerie, constantly changing lightshow is created by charged particles from the Sun that have been trapped in Earth’s magnetic field. When the field is overloaded as the result of solar activity, these particles race down the magnetic field lines into our planet’s upper atmosphere and smash into atoms of gas, releasing photons of light.
This unforgettable spectacle unfolds within the auroral zone, a pair of ovals roughly centered on Earth’s north and south geomagnetic poles. All of northern Norway lies beneath the northern aurora oval, and this means that on most nights a display of the northern lights will likely be visible — if the sky is clear, of course.
Astronomers believe that solar activity reached its maximum possible level in early 2015. But historically the phenomenon has tended to decline from its peak more slowly than it rises. So the Sun should still be active into 2017, which means the aurora should also remain dynamic. That said, we know just how difficult it can be to predict the weather a few days in advance. Consider the challenge of attempting to forecast the appearance of the northern lights as far ahead as October 2017! It is an impossible assignment. But we’ll be monitoring scientific websites on solar and auroral activity before and during the tour — and naturally checking the sky each night during our Norway adventure.
A final note on timing: For reasons not yet understood by astronomers, aurora activity peaks following the equinoxes. That’s why we plan to be under the dark Norwegian skies shortly after the autumn equinox in 2017.