The pursuit of the Northern Lights can be elusive. It’s common to feel that you’re at the mercy of Mother Nature’s whims when the wrong timing, the wrong conditions or the wrong weather so easily thwart your plans. But despite the effort needed to find the ideal nighttime setting, watching the sky erupt in neon banners is nothing short of surreal.
Written by: Kristin Ramsey | Photography: Gaute Bruvik, Robert Postma, Volundur Jonsson, Jorma Luhta, Jouni Porsanger, Alex Conu and Glenn Marschwww.herschelsupply.com
Named after the Roman goddess of the dawn, Aurora Borealis — meaning “dawn of the north” — has enchanted us for centuries. Sometimes it’s a haze over the horizon, a flicker over the mountains or a slender, weaving wisp. On the best of nights, it’s akin to an explosion and you hardly know where to look. The most common colors are pale green and pink, but there have been sightings of red, yellow, blue and violet as well. The lights are caused by electrically charged particles from the sun colliding with gaseous particles in the earth’s atmosphere.
The best viewing of the Aurora cycles every 11 years, with periods of heightened activity called a solar maximum. The lights come out most often between the months of August and April (of course, the farther you are from light pollution the better). The following are some countries that offer the best chance of seeing the celestial display.
The country’s northern territories — Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut — are prime viewing locations for the Aurora Borealis. Locals in Whitehorse, Yukon, are accustomed to seeing them on a regular basis, and local businesses host viewing tours throughout the winter months. You can also see the lights in Churchill, Manitoba, which is also known for its polar bear sightings.
Reykjavik and other destinations in Iceland have exploded in popularity recently for their impressive natural sights, one of which is the Northern Lights. Imagine watching them while floating in one of Iceland’s famed lagoons.
It’s said the Northern Lights are visible on roughly 200 nights a year in Lapland. Whether trekking on snowshoes or viewing the lights from the comfort of a glass igloo, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to view the Aurora here.
The Northern Lights are so important to Norway’s landscape and culture that design firm Neue incorporated them into the country’s passport design; when held up to a black light, the Aurora Borealis appears on the page. The real Northern Lights are visible near cities like Bergen, but the best place to view them is Svalbard — a string of islands in the Barents Sea between mainland Norway and the North Pole, known for their endless nights during the winter months.
Much like Canada’s northern territories, Alaska offers plenty of opportunities to see the Northern Lights. But you don’t have to travel quite so far north to see them: Cherry Springs State Park in Pennsylvania offers the occasional glimpse as well, and consistently delivers on incredible night sky viewing.