When and Where to See the Northern Lights

Colloquially known as the Northern Lights, the Aurora Borealis is a natural phenomenon in which the skies of the northern latitudes are painted a kaleidoscope of surreal colors and patterns. Named for the Roman goddess of the dawn, the lights occur when highly charged electrons from solar winds react with particles in the earth’s atmosphere around the North Pole. The pattern of emerald, fuchsia and indigo colors change in response to the amount of oxygen and nitrogen in the air.

northern lights safaris and tours
When to See the Lights

Because darkness is typically required to view the lights, they are usually not visible from mid-April until mid-August. This is because the sun does not fully set in these extreme northern latitudes during this period. The best time to view the lights is from September to late March because this is when the night sky is darker longer. The lights may be visible against a lighter sky and at other times if they are strong enough. The peak viewing is typically in the months of September and March, which coincides with the fall and spring equinox. Flares may begin as early as 4 p.m. and go through the night with peak periods between 10 and 11 p.m. Viewing may also be hampered by the illumination of a full moon as well as city lights. Be on the alert for weather forecasts as low-lying clouds can obscure the display, which occurs high in the atmosphere. The altitude of the lights enables them to be seen from miles away.

Where to See Northern Lights

The light pattern traces an oval path, called the auroral oval, which is centered on the earth’s magnetic north pole. The location of the strongest display on any particular night is determined by changes in solar winds and the exact location of the magnetic pole, which can vary from year to year. The oval covers major portions of Alaska, Canada, Greenland and Iceland as well as Scandinavia and parts of Russia.

Due to its northern Arctic location in the Barents Sea, Svalbard, Norway is a prime location for viewing this natural wonder. The lights are visible here from November until February. Svalbard travel also enables you to witness the Polar Night. During the period from mid-November until the end of January, the region is without daylight. This scenario increases the likelihood of seeing the northern lights because a light blue twilight is as bright as it gets. The Polar Night also provides an opportunity to witness the fainter Day Northern Lights. When you visit Svalbard, you can follow the lights during a Snowcat safari or explore the countryside on snowmobiles. Along the way, you may also see reindeer and arctic foxes in their natural habitat.

With minimal light pollution, locations like Greenland and Northern Canada offer the opportunity to view the lights from September until early April. The former U.S. military base near Kangerlussuaq, Greenland averages 300 nights of sightings per year. These stats are equaled by the Northern Studies Center in the Manitoba town of Churchill. Depending upon atmospheric conditions, the lights may be visible further west in locations like the northern Yukon, Saskatchewan and Northwest Territory from August until mid-April.

Surrounded by towering pines, the Kruna region of Sweden and Finnish Lapland offer views of the awe-inspiring lights from late November until late March. Located 900 meters above sea level, the sky viewing station in Abisko, Sweden is virtually free of interference from noise and light pollution. Towns across the area celebrate the lights that are visible more than 200 nights per year. The Norwegian government added a feature to their passport that reveals an image of the northern lights when viewed under a black light. Along with Iceland and Northern Alaska that offer possible viewing conditions from August through early May, the northern lights are also visible in the Shetland Islands and Cairngorm National Park of Scotland, where the phenomenon is called the Merry Dancers.

Organized excursions take you to the best locations where you can see the northern lights. Along with the greatest lights shows on earth, these tours include luxury accommodations and gourmet dining. Contact Epic Road for more information on northern lights safaris and tours.

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