The Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) is one of natures unmissable masterpieces. Imagine standing on the shores of a remote Greenland fjord. It’s a cold, clear and dark night and frost crackles underfoot. A sheen of new ice covers the water, and icebergs drift silently by on the tide. The sky is pierced by a million stars and the moon begins to creep up from behind a range of wild peaks.
Suddenly a greenish glimmer appears overhead, seeming at first like a high cloud lit by the moonlight. It begins to intensify and swirl, gently reflected by the fjord, and with a gasp of wonder you realise that it’s the Northern Lights, the Aurora Borealis, warming up to its show of natural splendor.
Before long it has become a dazzling display of greens, red and purples spiraling and dancing through the heavens. No photograph can prepare one to see the Aurora first hand – it moves and changes with surprising speed forming wonderful whirlpools and beams that merge and intensify, then split and fade. No wonder the Inuit believed that the Northern Lights are the playful souls of their children that died at birth. Sometimes it is a beautiful and delicate beam of light on the horizon, and sometimes it fills the entire night such that it seems that light is pouring out of the sky.
The Aurora Borealis forms when charged protons and electrons emitted from the sun as a solar wind are drawn in towards us by Earth’s magnetic field and collide with atoms and molecules in our atmosphere. These collisions result in countless little bursts of light that make up the aurora. Collisions with oxygen produce red and green auroras, while nitrogen produces pink and purple colors. The magnetic field is more concentrated around the Poles, hence this reaction encircles the polar regions of the earth and occurs at an altitude of 40-400 miles (65-650 km) in a zone called the Auroral Oval.
Greenland is a very reliable place to see the Northern Lights, and one would be unlucky not to see it on one of our tours that take place at suitbale time of year. Being at such a high latitude, the summer months are not dark enough at night. From our base in Kulusuk for example, the Aurora can been seen from late August until late April.