On Top of the World

I’m currently on a trip around the Northern part of Norway to try and see the Northern Lights. This arctic cruise, organised by the Oxford Alumni office, sees me in the role of Trip Scholar. This means I give some talks, do some on-deck stargazing sessions and make myself available to answer questions about astronomy. Sounds good? It is.

Everyone here is pretty much after any glimpse they can get of the aurora. Cloudy conditions are forecast so people have been subdued. Our plane was charted by the tour operator and so everyone board was headed for the same ship, and the same trip. There was much aurora speculation.

We flew from London to Tromsø (and then got diverted to Bodø and flew to Tromsø again – thanks snow). We boarded our ship (see image above from Flickr user kubimedia) and we’re now making our merry way up and over the top of Norway. Today we visited the Nordkapp – the Northernmost part of mainland Europe and the most Northern town in the world, Honningsvåg (see image below). Tomorrow we head off to meet the Russian border.

I’m on this trip with my brother, and after dinner last night we decided to go and take a look around the ship. When we went up on the top deck we were astonished to see the aurora! They were just beginning to burst into bright green curtains over our heads, and gave us quite a show.

The aurora are caused by steams of charged particles ejected by the Sun and sent hurtling toward the North and South poles by the Earth’s magnetic field.

They were just beautiful. They move far quicker than I had thought and change in brightness regularly. They shifted and slithered across the sky directly over our heads. It was like being in the best seat at the theatre. Set against the backdrop of silhouetted Norwegian Fjords, it was unlike anything I’ve seen before.

They didn’t last long. We were treated to about ten minutes of bright, green activity and then the ship called into a small town and the lights made it hard to see much at all. They did briefly return but were shortly covered by clouds again. 

I hope we get more of the same, we have a few more nights to try. I’ll try and take pictures if they appear again. The forecast is getting better, and the Sun is active enough that if it is clear we have a good shot at another viewing. However, if the weather doesn’t cooperate I am happy to have seen them even once. Everyone else on deck said the same. As one anonymous person remarked in the darkness: “I’m on top of the world, literally”.


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