Northern Lights, Norway

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In October 2014 my wife and I went on a Hurtigruten cruise in Norway. We sailed on the MS Midnatsol from Bergen, all the way along the Norwegian coast, right up to Kirkenes near the border with Russia. Then we sailed all the way back again. This took 12 days, during which we stopped at a couple of dozen Norwegian towns, ranging from small fishing villages to large cities like Trondheim and Tromso. We sailed north into the Arctic circle, and endured a ceremony on deck with Neptune which involved him pouring ice water down peoples necks ! On the way south the ceremony involves taking a spoon of cod liver oil ! The scenery was spectacular and increasingly icy and snowy as you travel north. The ship sails into some really narrow fjords which make for some amazing views. There are also lots of excursions you can go on if walking around the numerous towns is not enough.

But the main reason to go on this cruise, for us, was to see the Northern Lights. Indeed Hurtigruten are so confident you will see aurorae that they promise to give you another cruise if you fail to see them! We picked one of the special Astronomy cruises that they run, on which you have a resident astronomer to help you see the lights. He also gives lectures on astronomical topics. We were lucky to have Ian Ridpath, well known astronomy author, as our astronomer. He gave some excellent lectures and was very helpful in guiding us on where to see the aurorae.

We managed to see the Northern Lights on five occasions, two being really good and one outstanding. On the best night we were literally standing under the auroral oval with the lights going overhead from horizon to horizon. The lights change rapidly, so that over the course of just a few seconds they ripple and wander across the sky. The lights are also translucent, with stars being visible through. One surprise for me was that the aurorae looked white with just a tinge of green, unlike the deep green images normally photographed. This is because the lights are faint and human eyes are not very sensitive to colour in dark conditions. Photographing the northern lights is quite a challenge, especially on a moving boat. As the lights are faint you need to set the camera sensitivity high. Indeed I took many images at iso6400 and some at iso1600. As always it is a trade between camera noise and sensitivity. At those iso levels I was using exposures of around 5 seconds with an f3.5 10mm wide field lens. 

Of the hundreds of image I took, I present just a selection of them below.

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