Today was our first night in Menesjarvi, Finland on our week long aurora-hunting trip. I know what you're wondering..... where the heck is Menesjarvi? For the geography students - that 68*North and well into the arctic circle. The airport we flew to, Ivalo, is the northernmost airport in Finland and Menesjarvi is another hour from there. Having grown up in Atlanta, today hit several milestones for most snow I've ever seen, first wild reindeer seen, and first time I've been outside in temperatures below -10*F.
We spent the day recovering from a long series of flights and connections, taking a hike through the back country, and exploring Menesjarvi. Our lodging is a converted boarding school that sits on the edge of the frozen lake and was selected for it's location and total darkness. No city or highway nearby to provide light pollution!
On our drive to the lodging this morning, we'd inquired about the recent aurora activity and our spirits were lifted when we were told it'd been quite good recently. Our spirits were then crushed when we saw the thick cloud cover that was forecast to hang around all day.
Hang around it did - the clouds were thick and very grey, so we expected an early night with no chance of catching nature's fireworks. But you don't win a baseball game if you never swing a bat, so we decided to brave the elements to try swinging at balls we probably had no chance of hitting. To make getting around a little easier, there are kick sleds that we use to move across the frozen lake. The sleds also have little seats built in, so we went out onto the lake to an area we liked and setup mini camp.
For two hours, my friend and I just sat there with our necks kinked back looking into a dark sky. The clouds had started to break enough that we could see some stars and planets, so we called out the few constellations we knew to help distract ourselves from the -18*F temperatures. At one point we decided there was a band of clouds that looked green, so I took a photograph to test if we were seeing things, or if this was real activity. Sure enough, the viewfinder agreed - aurora! For the next 20 minutes, the clouds were away enough for us to see several distinct bands of green light up the sky. It was certainly hampered by the clouds and not as prominent as I expect it will be in good weather, but the long exposure on the camera was able to pull out the northern lights.
So here's a teaser of things to come. The weather forecast looks favorable during our trip so we should have some clear nights for better viewing.... but for now, mission accomplished!