I’ve written a lot about the northern lights, but there was a little push to write this one.
The Aurora as seen from Svalbard was the best display of this dazzling phenomena that I’ve ever seen. Finland was good, Iceland was good, Norway was good, but this was something else!
The Aurora is natures most spectacular show, putting on an enormous, captivating display of light, changing colour depending on the gases in the atmosphere. On this one particular night, the 27th of September 2016 to be specific, I was sitting in the Coal Miners Cabin at the farthest end of the town of Longyearbyen, Svalbard, eating my dinner and working on the photos I’d taken that day over a cold beer.
Throughout the day I was with Maja from Svalbard Husky who took me out with the lads and ladies on a Trollkart, and I’d just arrived the previous day so I made the most of the light I had by exploring the town, which is tiny, to it’s limits. I found one sign in particular which stood out as being perhaps the coolest road sign I’d ever seen. It warned drivers of the danger of Polar Bears, with a population of some 3,000 bears (exceeding the human population of 2,600) and it’s even, in fact, a lawful requirement to carry a muzzled weapon outside of the town because of the risk involved.
I was aware of the weather reports forecasting rain late in the night, and the Aurora forecast being pretty low at around 2kp that evening so I thought my chances of seeing the light show was pretty slim. Having got myself comfortable with my beer and my laptop, and with the resident Polar Bear sat beside me, I was getting on with reviewing and retouching all of the many photos I’d taken.
It was while I had the Northern Kings version of Nothing Compares To You playing in my headphones that I noticed someone run into the bar. Confused about why they looked so excited and were running and intrigued as to what was going on, I took out my headphones to hear the word ‘licht’, the German word for ‘light’, stand out amongst their rushed, excited exclamation to the bar. I slammed my laptop shut, necked my beer, grabbed my camera, and left.
As quickly as I could I made my way up the valley, through the darkness and away from the glowing lights of the small town, hurriedly extending the legs on my tripod as I went. I craned my neck trying to see the Aurora but there was nothing there. Hyper aware of my surroundings and hoping that there wasn’t a Polar Bear nearby, I set myself up and just stood there in the bitter Arctic night, staring all around the sky and wondering if this German chaps eyes were playing tricks on him.
Then, it happened. I saw the faintest patch of green to my left. The more I looked at it, the less I could see it. Trying to decide whether it was the lights or if it was a cloud I kept looking at it, looking away, then looking back again. Then another patch emerged between the mountain tops, tucked slightly behind them but growing and reaching out toward me.
The cold feeling went away and I was overcome with excitement at the prospect of what I was about to see. It was mere minutes that it took for the aurora to grow and fill the sky, but it seemed as though those minutes lasted hours. I watched on with my fingers crossed, firing off shot after shot, exposure after exposure, checking the back of the camera every now and then to see just what was going on.
The lights put on such an incredibly beautiful display that night, switching from a dull green to the most vibrant green I’d ever seen, dancing and flooding the sky before splitting into streams and waves, then sparkling as I felt engulfed in an incredible coronal display. I felt the energy hitting me and the emotion that I felt was, simply put, overwhelming. I’d never seen a corona before and I’ll never, ever forget it.
The light moved on, shifting back over the town and back and forth between the mountains that surrounded me, appearing at points to rain down from the sky. The colours shifted through a spectrum of greens and purples, shimmering throughout the entire sky above me. The show nature put on for me in Svalbard was the most amazing I’ve ever seen.
Svalbard, a territory of Norway half-way between the top of Norway and the North Pole, has become far more accessible with regular flights to Longyearbyen by Norwegian and SAS, and there’s even a Raddison Blu hotel in town. If you want to experience a flavour of the North Pole, this is it.