Solar maximum, been and gone or not?

December 30, 2012  •  Leave a Comment
Well hopefully the readers of my blog have had a great Christmas and you received lots of gifts and gadgets this year, many of those presents hopefully associated with photography.

Here is looking forwards to the New Year and 2013. From my own selfish perspective it just means we are closer to returning back to Tromso and hopefully experiencing the incredible auroras again.

One thing that people maybe aware of is that there are solar cycles which impact on the aurora borealis. These are regular occurrences of increased solar activity, usually in 11 years cycles, with the peak being referred to as the solar maximum. We are presently in solar cycle 24.

As 2012 are 2013 are predicted to be the peaks in the latest 11 year cycle there is a lot of talk of whether we actually reached the peak in 2012 or not. This is graphically displayed and explained clearly on the Space Weather website and can be found be clicking on this link Space Weather

This doesn't mean you wont experience the auroras if you are planning a holiday to Iceland, Finland, Sweden or Norway in the near future or further to Alaska or Canada. It may mean they are less intense due to the reduced solar activity, that is assuming of course we have reached the solar maximum which nobody will know until it has passed. There is though a greatly reduced number of sun spots in this period compared to the previous 11 year cycle. In 2001 this reached up to 175 sun spots in a single month and yet in this latest period this has never exceeded 95 in a single month so whether solar maximum has been and gone is open to debate.

One thing though that is worth bearing in mind is that no matter what solar activity is happening at the time you plan your visit this can and will be irrelevant if you have poor weather conditions or lots of cloud where you are as this will totally obscure the auroras and if it is low cloud you may not see a thing. This is something we experienced ourselves on one specific night in February.

If you are determined to experience the aurora borealis on your holiday I would highly recommend you use the services of a professional guide. These guides are very different to the the mass excursion trips offered by local hotels and usually limit the number of people to around 8 or 10 individuals.

These guides are often more expensive than the mass excursions available and there is a very good reasons for this and that is because they do go the extra mile to find clear skies and for their clients to experience the auroras. This may, in the case of the guides in and around Tromso, include taking you further afield into Finland or Sweden as their only goal is to get you to a location where you can see the auroras without time or distance being such an issue. It is a case or price/profit versus service and you take your pick of which one you want. The one thing I would suggest is that if you are going on holiday specifically to see the Northern Lights then when you add up the total cost of the holiday then paying the extra for the services of a professional guide seems a sensible thing to do. A word of warning though these guides are literally booked up months in advance so you wont be able to turn up to your chosen destination and decide only then to book with these people.

From what I have read, and this isn't from my own personal experience, 2 of the better guides in Tromso are Guide Gunnar who is also a wealth of knowledge and very helpful and active on the Tripadvisor website in the Tromso forum and Kjetil Skogli who was the guide that Joanna Lumley used when filming her trip to Norway to experience the aurora borealis. 

Happy New Year to everyone and here's hoping for some increased solar activity in the next few weeks.









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