By David Nikel
Over the past week, people in the north of Scandinavia have been treated to some of the strongest northern lights displays of the year.
Experts say the spectacular, multi-colored displays are just the beginning of what we can expect as the sun’s activity increases over the coming years.
Spectacular northern lights in Northern Norway
Stargazers in Tromsø are no stranger to the northern lights—or aurora borealis—as the city is one of the world’s best places to see the natural phenomenon. But the displays over the past week have been outstanding. At some points, almost the entire sky has been filled with color, including rarer purple and pink lights.
It wasn’t just locals and tourists who enjoyed the sight. Players, management and staff from Dutch soccer club PSV Eindhoven were treated to a display while in Bodø for a UEFA Europa League fixture.
Many of them took to social media to share their joy at seeing the lights before their 2-1 win over former Norwegian champions Bodø/Glimt. Coach Ruud van Nistelrooij and former Barcelona forward Luuk de Jong were among the PSV stars to share pictures online.
Only poor weather and cloud cover farther south prevented hundreds of thousands more people from enjoying the light show. But if the experts are to be believed, there will be plenty more opportunities in the coming years due to the approaching solar maximum.
The ‘solar maximum’ and what it means
Northern lights are caused by the sun. Specifically, when charged particles from solar storms travel towards Earth and react with atmospheric gases. They can only be seen around the two poles because that is where the earth’s magnetic field is weakest.
While this process can and does happen at any time, the amount of energy released by the sun changes over time. On average, the cycle of solar activity rises and falls over a period of approximately 11 years. Right now, we are heading towards a period of high expected activity, known as the solar maximum.
Pål Brekke, head of space research at the Norwegian Space Center, told Norway’s NRK that we are halfway towards the next solar maximum. “There will be good years ahead,” he said, adding that should averages play out, the next solar maximum should occur in 2024.
That means a 3-5 year period of significant northern lights activity. If you’ve always wanted to see the northern lights, now is a great time to start planning your trip.