It begins as a faint glimmer on the horizon, the merest suggestion of illumination flirting at the fringes of a black velvet sky. Yet that’s enough to trigger a tremor of excitement among a few dozen hopefuls gathered in a frosty Finnish forest, many of whom have travelled from as far as China for a glimpse of one of nature’s most ephemeral phenomena.

We struggle to detect even a hint of green in that celestial glow, but moments later, a camera’s long exposure confirms what the naked eye cannot. Definitely green. Those are the northern lights, all right.

Admittedly, my friends and I had expected an extraterrestrial spectacle with a bit more blow-your-woolly-socks-off oomph. We’re tempted to wait a while longer to see what materializes at the Aurora Hut on the outskirts of Saariselkä, a tiny village 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle in Inari, Finland’s most sparsely populated municipality. But here in Lapland, the largest and northernmost region of the country, the night is cold — relentless icicles-in-your-nostrils cold that would make a snowman shiver — and our toasty beds beckon.

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