WE LOVE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS

The northern lights are visible in the sky above Sisimiut from late September to late March. The chance to see the northern lights on a starry night is good. The best is to go outside the city lights, where it’s darker and northern lights therefore more clearly.

The bright dancing lights of the aurora are actually collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere. The lights are seen above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres. They are known as ‘Aurora borealis’ in the north and ‘Aurora australis’ in the south.. 

Auroral displays appear in many colours although pale green and pink are the most common. Shades of red, yellow, green, blue, and violet have been reported. 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.

All the images you see of the northern lights are taken with long exposure times and high ISO settings of modern cameras. The colors are stronger and brighter because the camera sensor has a much more dynamic range of vision in the dark than what you can see with the naked eye.

When taking video of northern lights time laps are common like in this film from Kangerlussuaq just 160 KM south/ east from Sisimiut

When you witness the lights streaking across the sky, reaching a height of up to 620 miles, surely you can understand how so many cultures came to develop mystical stories about them.

The aurora, with its striking colors and dance-like movements—seems otherworldly. The lights gave some communities feelings of comfort and happiness while others dreaded their re-appearance, considering them a bad omen.

Here are just 15 such tales:

1. When they witnessed the lights, many Inuit, the Arctic’s indigenous peoples, believed they were spirits of the dead playing a game with a walrus skull as the “ball.” The Inuit of Nunivak Island in the Bering Sea flipped its take on this story believing that it was walrus spirits playing with a human skull.

2. Indigenous Greenlanders believed that the lights were dancing spirits of children who had died at birth.

3. For Wisconsin’s Fox Indians, the aurora gave them a sense of foreboding—representing their slain enemies preparing for revenge.

4. In Alaska, some Inuit groups saw the lights as the spirits of the animals they had hunted, namely beluga whales, seals, salmon and deer.

5. In Norse mythology, the lights were the spears, armor and helmets of the warrior women known as the Valkyries. They rode on horseback, leading fallen soldiers to their final resting place at Valhalla.

6. The Inuit of Hudson Bay dreaded the lights, believing they were the lanterns of demons pursuing lost souls.

7. In Finland, a mystical fox was thought to have created the aurora, its bushy tail spraying snow and throwing sparks into the sky.

Set your ISO to 800. After you get the hang of it, you can play around with the ISO to adjust what you like and what your camera is capable of. 

For the shutter speed, set it on 15″ (15 seconds). This number can also be changed according to the brightness of the aurora, or as you get the hang of what your camera can handle. Small, cheap cameras usually need this longer time.

8. Some Algonquin peoples believed their cultural hero, Nanahbozho, relocated to the far north after he finished creating the Earth. He lit large fires, which reflected back to his people in the form of the northern lights. This let them know he was thinking of them, even though they were far apart.

9. In perhaps the best oxymoron in British folklore, Scottish legend refers to the lights as “Merry Dancers” engaged in bloody battle.

10. Indians of the Great Plains of North America thought the light display came from northern tribes who were cooking their dead enemies in huge pots over blazing fires.

11. Inuit in Point Barrow, Alaska’s northernmost spot, believed the aurora was evil. They carried knives to protect themselves from it.

12. In Estonia, one legend said the lights appeared when whales were playing games. Another said they were sleighs taking guests to a spectacular wedding feast.

13. Wisconsin’s Menominee Indians saw the lights as torches used by benevolent giants used when they speared fish at night.

14. Fishermen in northern Sweden took the lights as a good prophecy, believing they were reflecting large schools of herring in nearby seas.

15. If you whistled at the aurora, some Native Americans believed it would sweep down and take you away. Clapping your hands, however, caused the lights to retreat, keeping you safe. Meanwhile, in northern Scandinavia, the Sami people hid indoors during the light show.

Photos from by Sisimiut Mads Pihl/ Visit Greenland