The Northern Lights are one of nature’s most incredible phenomena. Like magic, they sweep the sky, painting it with colors from neon green and yellow to blue, violet and pink. Witnessing this evocative celestial happening is something that should be on every traveler’s bucket list and with winter approaching the northern hemisphere, now is the perfect time to plan your trip! The Northern Lights can technically happen anytime during the year, but they’re much more visible during the winter months. The darker the sky, the brighter the lights!
However, that’s not the only reason now is an important time to go. The Northern Lights take place on an 11-year solar cycle. The cycle typically reaches it’s peak around 5 years, and, from that point on, the activity gradually decreases. This year is the last year to enjoy the cycle in full swing; after 2016, the lights are predicted to appear less frequently. It won’t be until the next decade that the solar action picks up again.
So what exactly causes this mesmerizing sight? The bright lights are actually “the result of collisions between gaseous particles in the Earth’s atmosphere with electrically charged particles released from the sun.” The lights are only seen above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres. In the north they’re called ‘Aurora borealis’ and in the south they’re known as ‘Aurora australis’.
Throughout history, many cultures have developed their own beliefs about the lights, often viewing them as a symbol of something spiritual. According to Roman myth, Aurora is the goddess of the dawn. Indigenous Greenlanders believe the lights are dancing spirits of children who died at birth. In Alaska, some Inuit groups regard the lights as spirits of the animals they hunted. In Estonia, one legend says the lights appear when whales are playing games. The Inuit of Hudson, on the other hand, fear the lights and believe them to be lanterns of demons pursuing lost souls. Regardless of whether or not any of these tales are true, there’s one thing about this auroral activity that can’t be denied – the Northern Lights are stunningly beautiful, otherworldly, and powerful enough to make you feel like you just witnessed a little piece of Mother Nature’s magic.
Where you can catch the action.
Crisp, cold, clear, and dark skies present the ideal backdrop for viewing the Northern Lights. Destinations near and around the Arctic are the best; although, the lights have been seen as far south as the United Kingdom.
In Europe, heading north toward Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark are your best options. Norway’s town of Tromso is one of the most popular destinations, located just above the Arctic Circle. In addition to teeming with tons of aurora action, Tromso is home to the world’s most northerly planetarium and brewery.
Another promising spot is Abisko National Park, in northern Sweden. “Abisko has developed a reputation for being the No. 1 aurora-watching destination on the planet, due to the fact that it is located in a very special microclimate with less precipitation than any other location on Earth that is located within the aurora zone,” photographer Chad Blakley told Space.com in an exclusive interview.
You can also see the lights in northern Russia, particularly Siberia, and Kola Peninsula. The only drawback is that winters are extremely harsh and the areas with the best views can be quite hard to reach and lack infrastructure.
Iceland is also an excellent option. You can spot the lights from almost anywhere in the country. The rift valley known as Þingvellir National Park, a UNESCO Heritage Site, makes for an excellent viewing point, plus, you can throw in a little adventure – diving is permitted in two of the submerged rifts, offering a truly a unique experience.
In North America, the best places to see the lights include Alaska, the southern tip of Greenland, and the northwestern parts of Canada, such as Yukon, Ontario, the Northwestern Territories, and Nunavut.
A Photographer’s Haven
It’s hard to not “ooh” and “aww” when you see a picture of The Northern Lights. For most people, photos are the only proof that this spectacular show really exists! Which makes it easy to imagine how amazing it must be to get your own camera up close and personal with the dancing lights. There a dozens of guides that reveal the best techniques to capture great images.
From what gear to bring to what settings you should be using, it’s worth doing a bit of research. There are also some extremely handy tools that can help you time your visit around the peak times of auroral activity.
But in the end, a photo is only a byproduct of something bigger – the actual experience. Seeing the Northern Lights is something you’ll remember forever. While you toss around the idea of planning a trip, you can enjoy a preview on behalf of the Canadian Space Agency. They offer a live feed of the skies above Yellowknife, in Canada’s Northwestern Territories. If you really want to get pumped up, watch this video of someone paragliding through the magnificent Aurora borealis’! If seeing the Northern Lights wasn’t already on your bucket list, this ought to change your mind.
Have you seen the Northern Lights? Tell us about your favorite spot to catch the magic phenomena in the comments section below!
The post The Best Places to See the Northern Lights – And Why Now is the Time to Go appeared first on Headout Blog.