Monday, April 21, 2014

The hunt for Aurora Borealis (aka Northern Lights) April 20, 2014

Another item I wanted to see/do while on our assignment in Norway was to view the Aurora Borealis.  Most of the time you need to be north of the Arctic Circle.  I have signed up to receive notifications when there is a good chance to see the lights.  It can happen here in Stavanger but its very rare.  So yesterday I received an email.  I thought about it for while then I sent a message to my friend, Maria to see if she wanted to join me on my search.  Lucky for me she was up for the hunt for most likely nothing.  

We decided we would start our adventure around 9:30p because it should be dark by then.  Nope, at 9:15 while I was waiting for the kids to go to sleep it was still too light outside.  The sunset must have been beautiful.  From our house we can see down to the ocean over the countryside…it was beautiful with all the different colors in the sky.  
This is the view on our upper floor at 9:30p on April 21, 2014
We agreed to postpone the start of our adventure until 10:00p.  I loaded up my camera stuff and drove away there was still a tiny bit of light but we were driving about 30 minutes away so we would be good.   We have to get out of the city and avoid as much light pollution as possible.

I picked her up and we had decided to drive over to Rennesøy an island north of Stavanger.  We needed to drive through two tunnels to get to the island.  We got to the place we thought was our destination but couldn't find a good place to park or the road.  We kept driving…this area was PITCH black we really had no clue where we were and what was around us.  We had our iPhones and GPS but we needed something to tell us the trails etc.  
We ended up driving through another tunnel to Finnøy.  While we were driving into the tunnel and I read the fee sign…holy cow 150kr one way. ($25USD) Oh well, its too late now and we are on a mission.  As we are going through the tunnel there is a place where there we could make a right or continue on straight.  This was first for me, a turn in a tunnel.   

We get to Finnøy, its a small island. Which we would later drive around 1 1/2 times ;-)  While we are looking for a great place to spot the Northern Lights.  We pass tractors, couples walking on their midnight stroll.  One man wasn't even wearing his reflective vest he was carrying it.  I guess he didn't think any crazy people (Maria & myself) would be driving around the island looking for the Northern Lights ;-)
We drive around once, nothing then we decide to take a different turn...yippee, we find something promising a "park" area.  We take a left turn and drive down the road, which then turns into a grassy road, hmmm.  We drove about 200 meters more then decided to get out on foot…  The grass road was damp and neither one of us had been there before…grass, wet, car, not a good combination especially after midnight.  But being a Texas girl, I knew what I would need to do to if we got stuck in the mud but thankfully we didn't.  We walk a few meters and came to a fence, there is a small stream running beside the road, we couldn't see anything without a flashlight and nothing remotely close to the Northern Lights.  We get back in the car, I will remind you its pitch black, no street lights around anywhere.  Let’s just state for the record, not easy backing down a grassy road with one reverse light (normal for Jan's car).  So Maria gets out of the car, I handed her my flash light (Thanks to a special lady who made sure I had one to find my way back home) and she guides me down the road.  A couple times I had to pull forward and start back again just to keep from driving off the "road" into the field.  UGHHHhhh finally we made it back to the gravel road then the paved road.  

By this time it’s after midnight, we decide its time to head home.  We drive back into the tunnel, another $25usd…crazy, but we didn't have a choice.   Jan's car isn't half boat so we couldn't float home.  Those of you in the Houston area complaining about the $1.50usd tolls for Beltway 8…you're getting off cheap, this was just over 5K long for $25.  Anyway we get out of the tunnel and chatting away, who knows where we are and then Maria said slow down…I think I see it.  We quickly find a little section to pull off, turn off the lights (except for the parking lights, safety).  There were other crazy people out on the road too.  She said look over there…it looks very light neon green and in the shape of a rainbow.  We sit there watching…and then we start seeing movement in the light.  It’s very faint…but by this time I'm getting very excited.  We get out of the car and stand beside it watching the sky.  Maria sees a shooting star and then notices a satellite among ALL the stars.  We continue watching the sky and I start to see the "lights" get a little brighter. Then out of the "rainbow" we see some rays of light shooting upwards, it was starting to dance.  The “rainbow” would dim and then get brighter, it would become thin and then very wide, constantly changing.  OMG I was super excited, this was amazing.  It was almost like my eyes were playing tricks on me.  Finally, I got my camera out and set up the tripod trying to watch the lights at the same time. Thank goodness I didn’t drop my camera.  But I hadn't preset anything on my camera so none of my photos turned out.  I was a little bummed but I was so excited I was able to see the "northern lights." We stayed there for about 40 minutes looking into the sky waiting to see if it would start up again…I did see a shooting star, which was icing on the cake.  I still can’t believe we found it,   Mission Accomplished!!

This is a not a common thing for the lights to be viewable this far south.  And for this to happen on a clear night well, that's even more rare here in Stavanger.  From what I understand its also rare for the lights to show the late in the year.  I still want to see them again and hopefully I will get a trip above the Arctic Circle before this assignment is up.