Longing Northern Lights

Dr. Martina Melzer, published: 24/09/2022


Deutsche Version


I admit: I am addicted to northern lights. I saw my first aurora many years ago in Alaska. It was a plain green arc, barely moving, but I was so fascinated that I forgot to take pictures.

Although I have had the opportunity to experience the Aurora borealis, as the Northern Lights are known in technical jargon, many times in the meantime, it always takes my breath away. Many cold hours and nights my partner and I spent in the car and stared into the night sky. At some point I got a stiff neck from looking up, tried to increase the light sensitivity of my eyes by opening them wide, my knees, legs, hands, arms, feet - frozen, stiff, cold. All to spy the first very slight green arc on the horizon.

Once it's there, sometimes everything has to happen very quickly. Put on the headlamp, strap on the camera, set up the tripod, adjust everything. And then: take pictures in all directions when the northern lights start to move. Or: wait, because nothing happens at all. Northern lights photography means one thing above all: being patient.

When the spectacle begins, all efforts are forgotten. The neon green arc wanders, suddenly pale green, purple, light yellow, red, bluish, whitish. Spirals, circles, candles, angels, carpets, garlands, swirls. Auroras can take the craziest shapes. The sky shakes. Sometimes you feel like the sky is falling on your head (at Teutates...). No wonder that Nordic peoples often see the Aurora borealis as something spiritual. I often stand there too, mouth open, eyes wide, cold shivers running down my spine, I'm under a spell. And sometimes forget to press the shutter button on the remote. Or make some kind of rookie mistake. Out of sheer excitement.


What are the northern lights?

It's not yet clear exactly how this celestial phenomenon is created. But one thing is certain: they are triggered by solar winds or solar storms. The sun hurls electrically charged particles into space. When these particles hit the outermost layer of the Earth's atmosphere, they interact with other particles. As a result, they begin to glow. How intense the northern lights are and in which colors they shine depends on how deep they penetrate the earth's atmosphere.

Auroras are usually seen only in a certain zone below the poles: the north as well as the south pole. This is due to the Earth's magnetic field. Only during very strong solar storms the aurora borealis appears further south of the north pole, the aurora australis further north of the south pole. The colors are caused among other things by nitrogen and oxygen particles.

Here you can find a selection of my personal aurora favorites:


By the way, my favorite northern lights book is the one by Bernd Römmelt: "Polarlichter":


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Translated with DeepL