The Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights, is a natural phenomenon caused by sunspot activity and solar storms, that presents itself as an ever-changing curtain of colorful light. This seemingly magical display has been illustrated in cave paintings that date back as far as 30,000 years ago! But in the years since then, our infatuation with this natural phenomenon hasn’t lessened. People from all over the globe head out hunting and hoping for a sight of these unpredictable, naturally occurring light shows. To figure out when, where, and how to see the Aurora Borealis - Northern Lights, check out the information presented below and increase your chances of seeing these ethereal and entrancing wonders.
The best time to see the Northern Lights is impossible to pinpoint and about as difficult to predict. Aurora Borealis occurs most strongly when the sun’s storm activity has peaked and solar sunspots are at their maximum. Generally speaking, winter is typically the best time because the air is crisper, there are lower levels of light pollution, and fewer snow clouds to obscure the aurora. While Aurora Borealis still occurs in the warmer months, the summer skies render the lights invisible to the naked eye. Two weeks around the new moon in March is an ideal time for sightings, but viewings are still very possible from early January and into late April. The optimal time of day to see the Northern Lights is around 9:30pm to 1am. To see more pronounced light displays, you want the sky to be dark, so wait for the sun to go down before expecting the lights to come out. To pass the time, make some Overnight Breakfast Recipes to enjoy the morning after your Northern Lights adventure.
As the name Northern Lights suggests, the farther you go north, the more likely you are to catch a glimpse of this natural phenomenon that occurs near the north magnetic pole. In North America, the best spot to see the Aurora Borealis is in Alaska or northern Canada. Outside of North America, Northern Scandinavia, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Finland are all popular locations for prevalent sightings. You’ll want to stay away from coasts and seas, because the cloudy and weather-ridden skies of these regions can obstruct your view. Seek out inland locations. Cities and metropolises produce an abundance of light that can also interfere with viewings, so seek out a place on the outskirts of town to give yourself a better shot of having a sighting. An inland location, like the outskirts of Fairbanks, Alaska, is an ideal location for seeing the Northern Lights in the United States.
While there are guides and company tours available to help you in your search, you can easily save yourself some money and head out on your own to seek out these lights. To aid in your quest, check out the Kp-index which will help you greatly in determining the likelihood of witnessing an aurora. The index number, which ranges from 0-10, will vary depending on your location. You can combine its information with other aurora forecast maps to best estimate when and where a sighting will be most likely. Because most sightings will occur during colder months and at night, be sure to dress warm and prepare yourself to stay up past your bedtime!
Now that you know a little bit more about how to best see the Northern Lights, you might be curious about why these mysterious lights occur. It stems from the sun’s magnetic fields twisting and knotting and then bursting to create a sunspot. In regions where sunspots occur, particles of plasma hurl out and create solar winds. When these winds reach earth they create the colorful displays we call Aurora Borealis. These colors occur and differ based on which molecules (oxygen, nitrogen, etc.) the solar winds are colliding with. Typical colors are hues of greens and yellows, pinks, blues, and violets. The Northern Lights take place 60 or 70 miles above the earth’s surface and extend hundreds of miles into space.
The Northern Lights have been capturing our imagination for thousands of years, and they continue to do so. Just because we now know more about what causes this natural phenomenon, it doesn’t take away from their awe-inspiring magic and ethereal mystery. If you’ve never seen the Aurora Borealis, consider planning a hunt. If you are lucky enough to see a sighting, it will certainly be an event that you will remember for the rest of your life!