The northern lights are visible in the sky above Sisimiut from late September to late March. On a starry night, you have a great chance to see the northern lights. The best way to experience the northern lights, is to go outside the city, where it is darker and the northern lights are clearer.

The clear, dancing, auroral lights are collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun, that penetrate the earths atmosphere. The lights can be seen above the magnetic poles on the northern and the southern hemisphere. 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 different shapes, from patches or scattered clouds of light to streamers, arcs, rippling curtains or shooting rays that light up the sky with an eerie and at the same time fascinating glow. 

All the images you see of the northern lights are taken with long exposure times and high ISO settings in 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 you take a video of the northern lights, time laps are common, like in this film from Kangerlussuaq, just 160 KM south/east from Sisimiut.

Photos from by Sisimiut Mads Pihl/ Visit Greenland

When you experience the lights dancing in the sky, reaching a height up to 310 miles, you can surely understand why so many cultures have developed mystical stories about them.

The aurora, with its striking colors and dancing movements, seems otherworldly. The lights gave some communities the feeling of comfort and happiness, while others feared their return, because they considered them a bad omen.

Here are just 15 of such stories:

1. When they saw the lights, many Inuits, the Arctic’s indigenous people, believed that it was the spirits of the dead, who were playing a game with a walrus skull as the “ball.” The Inuits of the Nunivak Island in the Bering Sea changed this story and believed that it was walrus spirits, that were playing with a human skull.

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

3. The Wisconsin’s Fox Indians believed that the aurora represented their slain enemies preparing for revenge.

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

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

6. The Inuits of Hudson Bay dreaded the lights, and believed that they were the lanterns of demons who pursued lost souls.

7. In Finland, they thought that a mystical fox had created the aurora, where its bushy tail was spraying snow and throwing sparks into the sky.

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

For 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 a hang of what your camera can handle. Small, cheap cameras usually need this longer time.

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

9. In British folklore, a Scottish legend refers to the lights as “Merry Dancers”, who were engaged in bloody battles.

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

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

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

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

14. Fishermen in northern Sweden thought that the lights brought something good with them, and believed that they were reflecting large schools of herring in nearby seas.

15. If you whistled at the aurora, some Native Americans believed it would come down to the earth and take you away. Clapping your hands would make the lights retreat, and you were safe again. Meanwhile, in northern Scandinavia, the Sami people were hiding indoors during the light show, because they were too afraid to be outside.