The Northern Lights are unique in Svalbard
Lifted up as a potential gold mine for the tourist industry.
Translated by Mark Sabbatini
A course on the aurora was offered by Visit Svalbard for its member companies this week, with help from Visit Tromsø. The goal is putting some heat into dark season tourism.
"Tromsø has been quick to promote the Northern Lights," said Visit Svalbard Director Ronny Brunvoll. "We've never really taken a good grip on it here."
Tromsø, dubbed "Paris of the North", is in the eye of the auroral storm, making a perfect location for outstanding light shows at night. They are rarely as powerful in Svalbard, but the archipelago's location has one advantage over the rest of the world.
"You can see the northern lights during the daytime," Brunvoll said. "That is unique."
"Our core hours for aurora watching are between six in the morning and six in the afternoon, while on the mainland they can first seen in the evening."
The mainland is too far south to experience daytime auroras. The reason is the physics behind the phenomenon, which is formed when particles from the sun hit the Earth's magnetic field and are directed into a "funnel" centered around the magnetic poles.
During the daytime a so-called auroral oval (see illustration) exists much further north than during the evenings, said Kjell Sigernes, a professor at The University Centre in Svalbard and head of the Kjell Henriksen Observatory.
"We are one of the few places where you can see daytime Northern Lights and it is easy to get to," he said, adding the lights stand out in terms of color.
"There is more red than the nighttime Northern Lights," Sigernes said. "This can be observed especially when taking pictures of them."
The northern lights depend on solar activity. The more active our nearest star, the more active the lights become. But daytime auroras are relatively constant, even when the sun is relaxing.
"Since we also can see the nighttime northern lights up here, we get in total the most Northern Lights," Sigernes said. "That is why we have built a private observatory in Svalbard. I have long said to the tourism industry that this is a gold mine."
The sun is about to move away from a period of maximum activity, but nothing suggests the light shows will diminish initially.
"If you look at the graphs, the Northern Lights are to be at their best a few years after the solar maximum," said Pål Brekke, a solar researcher at the Norwegian Space Centre. "In principle, we have some very good years ahead of us."