“No pencil can draw it, no colors can paint it, and no words can describe it in all its magnificence.” That’s how 19th-century Austrian explorer Julius von Payer described the aurora borealis. There is no better place in the world to view this astronomical phenomenon than in northern Norway, from the Lofoten Islands to the North Cape. The lights are at their most visible from late fall to early spring, and Vantage takes you there at the perfect time of year on the Winter in Norway: Land of the Northern Lights with the Snowhotel cruise tour.
Legends of the Lights
The aurora borealis, more commonly known as the northern lights, has been a source of wonderment (and fear) for centuries, resulting in a plethora of legends. The Vikings believed the sky’s dancing lights were reflections of dead maidens, and North American Inuits believed they were spirits of the dead playing soccer with the head of a walrus. Others thought the lights were evil forces that might have come down and snatch children up to the sky. At the turn of the 20th century, Norwegian scientist Kristian Birkeland was the first to theorize that charged currents flowing through gas in Earth’s atmosphere create the aurora borealis.
It was not until 1967, the height of the space age, that Birkeland’s theory was confirmed. The northern lights are really curtains of colored light created by solar activity. The sun emits a cloud of gas, and if it reaches Earth and collides with the magnetic field, changes in the atmosphere occur. Currents of charged particles then combine with oxygen and nitrogen atoms to produce the dazzling lights.
Experiencing the Aurora Borealis
Although there is never a guarantee that you will see the northern lights, your chances are increased on dark winter nights when skies are clear. Bundle up, go on deck, and watch for the parade of colors and patterns that cross above you. You may see patterns that resemble rippling currents, pulsating beads, or steady glows, depending on the type of ions or atoms that are energized. Most often, you’ll see bright electric greens rimmed in pink. If you’re lucky, a kaleidoscope of colors — a coron
a of green, violet, white, and pink — may burst overhead and shoot out in all directions.
Ethereal, surprising, moody, and magnificent, the northern lights are otherworldly. The opportunity to witness them is an experience not to miss.