Guide for the Aurora Borealis Observatory at Senja.
Disclaimer: I made this guide because a lot of my friends (you know who you are) has been messaging me on how I planned my trip and how to go to the Aurora Borealis observatory. Rather than answer all their questions one by one, it is easier this way and they can make future references.
I was also able to do a little of research because I postponed this trip twice in 2 years because of more important things at my job. I am NOT an expert and these are mainly based on my readings and talking to some people I met and personal experience and opinion.
There are other places that offer the NL but i haven’t been there and again I’m not an expert. As of writing, the AB observatory is still being developed so some details here may not be applicable in the future. You may share this to your friends who may be planning to go. Good Luck and Enjoy!
There’s tons of information and research available regarding the Aurora Borealis. I tried to digest it here into a short overview, it may look lengthy but it really is very short. What I offer here are tiny details that I discovered as my adventure unfolded.
This is intended so you dont have to go through some of the difficulties and stress I went through. To save your time, lessen your stress and increase your success.
Why I chose this place to view the Northern Lights (NL) or Aurora Borealis (AB)?
First you have to understand the nature of the Aurora Borealis (AB). Strong solar winds drive charged particles toward earth. Our planet’s magnetic field pulls these particles toward the magnetic North and South poles. The particles form the sun collides and ignites the gases of our atmosphere producing the many colors of the NL.
The aurora oval is a fixed oval relative to the earths position towards the sun. This aurora oval lies mostly in uninhabited cold regions in Alaska, Canada, Northern Scandinavia, Siberia, Greenland and Iceland.
Northern Norway has a favorable location with milder climates and nearby cities and towns. (TROMSO, SENJA, FINNMARK, LOFOTEN etc.)
FACT: the Gulf Stream plays a key role in creating a milder climate in Norway. The Gulf Stream in the North Atlantic Ocean in the Norwegian Sea emits heat into the atmosphere.
KP value: The website Aurora service forecast http://www.aurora-service.eu/aurora-forecast/ has a map showing what KP (global geomagnetic condition) value you need to view the Aurora in your location. KP 0 very little geomagnetic activity and KP9 very strong activity. Northern Norway is at KP 1 or KP 2. Which means you only need a clear sky in Northern Norway to view the Aurora (at KP 1 or 2). This is only a forecast based on statistical values but you really cannot predict the SUN and the Earth activity. Anders told me that the day he saw the most active AB which lasted for 17 hours with the wildest colors was rated a KP zero.
Second condition is a clear sky
The NL occurs at about 90 kilometers or more above the sky which is above the clouds. So a clear sky is a must. The topography of Senja and Aurora Borealis observatory is located between 2 mountain ridges. I’m NO expert but they claim at the observatory that these ridges somehow isolates the place giving it clear skies when other parts of northern Norway is cloudy.
Third condition should be a place with minimal light pollution. Even if the NL is present if you are located in a bright city or town, the light pollution may hinder your view of the NL.
The AB observatory is isolated and has very minimal light pollution so it is an ideal place to view the Aurora.
To summarize, the 3 conditions to view the Aurora Borealis was met by the Aurora Borealis Observatory. Which are, a low KP value needed for the NL to be visible due to its geographical location, minimal light pollution and higher chances of clear skies.
Bonus Features: The Aurora Borealis observatory in Senja is located at Silsand, near Finnsnes. A small town with restaurants, groceries, ATM machine and a Ferry to TROMSO, a small city with an airport or shuttle to Bardufoss Airport.
Other features and amenities of the Aurora Borealis Observatory are featured in detail at their website, and Facebook page, (outdoor jacuzzi etc.) you can judge its advantages according to your needs. I will not go into the details except add on some tips. Please visit their website, read on it and not base your trip solely on this guide.
Read the details from their website, I included here tiny details which I encountered so you dont have to go through the complications.
You can reach Senja by OSLO Gardenmoen Airport, to either Bardufoss airport or TROMSO AIRPORT.
I suggest spend a night or two at OSLO before heading out to SENJA island. Reasons
1. Oslo has wonderful attractions and can be toured in one day.
2. Get a sim card at OSLO.
-A sim card will make your life easier, use google map to guide you around OSLO; contact the AB observatory via the messaging app WHATS UP to pick you up, or google anything.
Getting a sim card is a bit tedious. You can get it at a 7-eleven near your hotel. The cashier will register the SIM card, BRING YOUR PASSPORT, she will talk to the operator, and the operator will ask your passport details, the cashier will borrow your passport to confirm your passport details.
The process can take 20 to 30 minutes as there are pauses in between. Get the MYCALL sim, it works all over the world. I have tried it in all of Scandinavia, Finland and Dubai my stopover. Use its data only to google, google map, email or for messaging apps. Limit use of Facebook or Instagram on your mobile data, use the hotel Wi-Fi for that. Data SIM at Norway cost about 25 USD for 6 GB. I got another SIM at Denmark 60 GB for 15 USD (LYCA sim). Bring a pin to remove your SIM card, they dont have it. I have to walk back to the hotel to ask for a safety pin so I can insert the new SIM and the cashier can register my SIM.
Your Airline may give you 30 kg baggage but Norwegian Air only allows 20 kg, strictly. Or pay 500 Norwegian Krone per kilogram in excess. Weight your luggage before you leave, make allowance if you want to buy souvenirs on your way back. (I dumped 4kg of stuff at OSLO). A tripod is a must for serious photography, you can borrow at the observatory, or bring one if you need it on some other destination before or after SENJA. Bring adequate thermal protection. You will be comfortably warm inside the Observatory with its panoramic glass walls but when the AB appears you will still go outside to experience it. Also if you can, get a good non slip shoes with thermal protection if you plan to go on the cold season. There are hiking activities through slippery rocks and ice.
Get an early flight from OSLO to Bardufoss, so if something happens, there is ample time to fix problems. OSLO is about 20-30 mins to Gardenmoen Airport via FLYTOGET shuttle. You dont want to be spending the night at Bardufoss airport. It is a 1 hour drive (70km) via the airport shuttle. If the airline damages your luggage, go to the airport shuttle first, tell the driver to wait for you as you will make a report to the airline personnel.
If the shuttle leaves, the next one will be six hours later. This happened to me, I was fortunate that a kind soul offered to drive me to the public transport. Tell the shuttle driver to drop you at BEST SILSAND, BEST is apparently a gas station company in Norway. Shuttle fee is 210 NOK (32 USD). The drop off at BEST SILSAND is where the AB observatory staff will pick you up. Message them via WHATS UP. This is also your pickup point on your way back. As Early as 4:30 AM, the Airport Shuttle picks up passengers at BEST SILSAND.
If you plan to take photos of the NL, learn the basics of photography and how to take photos of it at You Tube or Google. Take into consideration the weather and temperature as this can damage some camera and lenses. Moisture will also build up if you bring your camera immediately from the cold outdoors into the heated indoors. You may also have your photograph taken with the AB courtesy of the pro Astrophotograper Adrien at the observatory, for a fee.
Theres a lot of things to do at SENJA as detailed in the website and these activities are available depending on the season of your visit.
A Day tour at TROMSO, the gateway to the Arctic Circle is also possible. Leave the AB observatory at 8:00 am, catch the 8:45 am ferry on a weekday at Finnsnes and be back at the harbor of TROMSO before 4:15 pm for the return to Finnesnes. Ferry ride is approximately 1 hour. You will have six hours at TROMSO, more than enough time to tour the small city.
Things to do at Tromso: You can ride the cable car at Fjellheisen, up in the mountain with the snow and stunning view of TROMSO below. From Fjellheisen (Google) Walk 15 minutes into the Arctic Cathedral, then be back at the city center to the POLARIA where there’s a Movie about the AB and a polar museum with a pool of seals.
To go to the cable car: Ride the BUS # 26 at Peppes Pizza (Google walk) near the Harbor to Fjellheisen. This bus goes on a Loop and will be the same Bus on your way back either at Fjellheisen or at the Bus Stop near the Arctic Cathedral. Get off again at Peppes Pizza and google walk towards the POLARIA or explore the city.
FERRY 320 NOK one way
BUS #26 50 NOK one way
Cable Car 210 NOK
POLARIA 130 NOK
WHEN TO GO
This is also detailed in the website.
The AB is present all the time, it is only impossible to view the NL during summer because of the midnight sun in the Arctic Circle. So it is present from August 19th to April 15th. Best to go from September to end of March. Based on the statistics of several websites, most success rates are during the months of October and February. According to the AB observatory website, their statistics showed 100% success in viewing the AB for those who stayed for 4 nights.
I cannot verify this claim since I dont have access to those data. Of course there is a small amount of luck involved as you cannot control the weather (cloudy skies) and the solar cycle. The solar cycle is 11 years and SOLAR MAXIMUM is when there is greatest NL activities, the NL will be more active for 3 years until and for 3 years after the SOLAR MAXIMUM. The last solar maximum occurred in 2014.
Time your travel also with the Full moon into consideration. There are Apps out there with the lunar calendar/cycle. A full moon may hinder your viewing if it is a weak AB, although some say a little bit of moon lends more color to the AB display. Again I am not an expert on this, do your own research. It was a straight full moon in my first four days but I still saw a lot of AB.
Senja Island may not be able to handle all your demands as tourism is fairly new. There are few hotels and restaurant that can handle takeouts for delivery. The apartments at the AB Observatory are spacious, fully furnished with nespresso machine, automated dishwasher and induction cooker and oven. I stocked the fridge and cooked my meals.
If you go via TROMSO AIRPORT then please time your flight to the ferry schedule going to FINNSNESS. I cant comment on this since I did not take this route.
If you go directly or on a connecting flight from another trip, make sure to always synchronize your phone to the local time of the airport. You may miss your connecting flight. This almost happened to me if I did not check, what was 1 hour on paper became 10 minutes only to transfer because of Delays and different time zones. (Imagine running to a long Terminal with a backpack loaded camera gear and power banks). Once you land, the first thing you do is synchronize your smartphone by turning on location services and set your clock to synchronize to network provided time.
For those who dont know how to use Google Walk in the Google Map, practice practice practice how to use it. It allows you to discover attractions, restaurants, convenience stores, etc. You wont get lost with Google Map. This is why getting a local sim with internet is a MUST if you dont have roaming data!
Get a good travel insurance. If you get sick, had an accident or lost your luggage you will have peace of mind. Also, for those who will bring expensive Drones or Cameras etc., have your gear insured. Again peace of mind if you drop it in the dark or in the fjords etc. etc.
Credits to Anders and Adrien Mauduit Photography – Film for some of the info here. Thank you to all the people I met during this trip. I gained some lifelong friends and extended family. You know who you are. If you have other questions I will try to edit this post as needed or in the comments . Spread love and peace. ♥️🌌
Written by our guest Andrew Droyd