Aurora borealis in Estonia

03.25.2015

On March 17th 2015 I spent nearly 7 hours outside, my head tilted back. I didn’t feel any hunger, I didn’t feel cold or tired. . .

I was watching the Aurora borealis or the Northern lights that can be seen usually above the magnetic poles of the northern hemisphere and they are actually the result of collisions between gaseous particles in the Earth’s atmosphere with charged particles released from the Sun’s atmosphere. Variations in colour are due to the type of gas particles that are colliding.

The most common auroral color, a pale yellowish-green, is produced by oxygen molecules located about 96 kilometres above the Earth. I’ve seen red, yellow, orange, green, blue and violet shades so far. The lights appear in many forms from patches or scattered clouds of light to streamers, arcs, rippling curtains or shooting rays that light up the sky with an eerie glow.

It’s not that rare to see greenish glow above the horizon, if it’s clear and conditions are right, but usually those green arcs are pretty low, with some pillars. I started photographing that green glow in autumn of 2012 and back then I didn’t hope anything greater. However, the emotions that I got from watching probably the most powerful Northern lights that I’ve seen so far, drove me to this point – I’ve decided to write about March 17th 2013 and 2015.

It’s not common to see such overwhelming display here in Estonia, because usually these displays could be seen far north. It’s even more surprising, that they happened on March 17th.

Usually I tend to observe live-cameras and charts, but march 17, 2013 was even beautiful without any Auroras, so I didn’t wait for anything like that to alert me and my friend. We went outside and there they were…Auroras – Yellow, orange, red, and green lights were glinting and flashing, and the moonlight was lighting the ground.

I remember that due to euphoria we even screamed…a lot, because we hadn’t seen anything like that in Estonia before. We rushed outside at 8 PM, without any clue where we should go and what kind of foreground should we use. The sky was partly cloudy, but it didn’t ruin anything. The view was incredible. Main display lasted at least 4-5 hours.

This year (2015) I had the chance to keep track of different kinds of charts and updates, and because of that I was more than sure that I’d see at least some glow. I charged my batteries, changed my clothes, ate something quickly. Now I just had to wait until it got darker. I went outside at 8 PM and the view was incredible. The sky was shimmering and the horizon in the north as well. I remember, that two years ago there were just some ‘’waves’’ that moved above our heads and those weren’t that intense. I saw lots of colors, especially pink and red. I had to wait until it got really dark. Everything was in place – no clouds, no humidity. No moonlight and no fog. Super.

The display was getting even more powerful and intense than it was before. Those ‘’curtains’’ were flying much higher than before and those green arcs were much higher above the horizon now as well. You could see the display reflected on river surface, accompanied by beavers. I didn’t make much noise, so they weren’t afraid of me. Time after time I had to fight with the ice that was covering my lens. It was so hard that you could even chop it off.

As I was moving towards rivers near our home, I was accompanied by bats, who were making those light clicking sounds that echoed quite loudly that night, thanks to the cold perhaps. They were awake as well, to start hunting. I could feel that the ground was frozen and the air was crispy. For some reason it was so white outside, or as white as you need it to see where you’re going. So I decided that I should stay near the open waters and just enjoy.

I believe that the peak of the whole display was around 1 AM. I had to tilt my head to the back and even then I couldn’t see everything that was going on around me in every direction. It seemed as those curtains touched the frozen ground for a sec. I left at 2 AM, because there was nothing special to see anymore, I couldn’t expect anything else. Powerful experience. That was probably one of the most brightest nights in my life and nights like that don’t occur every week…so let’s wait until the next March 17th.