Northern lights in Trondheim

September 14, 2014 at 05:56PM     Travel Norway Trondheim

I'm currently in Trondheim, Norway, the first stop of my 5.5 month research sabbatical, here to work with Prof Colin Boyd whom I worked with in Brisbane before he moved to Trondheim.

Like many people I have desired to see the northern lights. Trondheim is the furthest north I've even been, so I was hopeful I would be able to see them, but knew the chance would still be pretty low.

On Friday morning my mom emailed me telling me she'd heard on the radio there was a solar storm that would be hitting Earth that night, with the possibility of aurora. Making use of aurora forecast websites such as Aurora Service, Soft Serve News, and OVATION, we managed to figure out that there was a good chance of aurora in Trondheim that night, and that the skies were going to be cloudless. One forecast suggested the storm would start around midnight and peak around 5am; we weren't sure whether to stay up or get up early.

Around 10 o'clock the forecast was looking pretty good: a "Kp number" of around 5 was forecast, whereas a Kp number of at least 3.5 is required to see the northern lights in Trondheim. We headed out to a shoreline road along the fjord on the northern edge of Trondheim. Looking out the window, I saw little bits of the northern lights in the sky, so we tried to find somewhere to stop. We got out at one roadside stop along the road, but then moved on to try to find somewhere quieter. We found a nice place right alongside the water, but then noticed right next door was the meeting point of the Hell's Angels (really!) so we moved on. We ended up walking down past some cottages to a rocky beach that would have been underwater at high tide, but was perfect at the time.

And there they were! Northern lights!

Looking out over the water, we saw sheets of light patches in the sky, like tufts of cloud, but fading in and out, moving around. Unexpectedly, they were mostly monochrome to the naked eye, but my camera was picking up colour. They were nebulous to look at, you couldn't really focus on them, as soon as you look at them, the focus shifts and they seem to disappear. It was better to look at a fixed point and let them move in the sky around you, in and out of your focus.

They were different types of aurora, it seemed. Sometimes they were in bands across the lower sky, like in the picture above. Sometimes there were in sheets and clouds all across the middle sky, like this:

Northern lights overhead
And sometime they were in columns and patterns reach up the whole sky, like the dome of a cathedral, with an opening right overhead, giving you a sense of the immensity of the sky (picture at right).

And near the end they were like tendrils snaking across the sky, rapidly forming and dissipating in just a second or two, like a stream of smoke in a jet stream.

I managed to take a series of pictures to create a timelapse video showing the progression of the lights over about 10 minutes:

Northern lights, as they looked to the naked eye
Like I said, the aurora were mostly monochrome to the eye, but the camera managed to pick up green and a hint of red. The pictures above were processed a bit; here's roughly what they looked like to the naked eye (picture at right).

I feel very lucky that on my third night in Trondheim we managed to see the northern lights in one of the strongest solar storms of the year.