The Northern Lights – or Aurora Borealis – are nature’s greatest light show. It’s a dramatic, entrancing and fascinating display of celestial pyrotechnics to all who see it. These bright dancing lights of the aurora are collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere. They are usually pink, green, yellow, blue, violet, and occasionally orange and white. Most aurorae occur between 90 and 130 km above sea level. Typically, when the particles collide with oxygen, yellow and green are produced. Interactions with nitrogen produce red, violet, and occasionally blue colours.
The name Aurora Borealis comes from two ancient names. Aurora is the Roman goddess of the dawn, whereas Boreas is a Greek word that means north.
The Northern Lights are seen above the magnetic poles of the northern hemisphere. As the name suggests, they are related to the polar regions. The Auroras are always present, but winter is the best time to see the lights due to the dark and clear skies. Most Northern Lights locations are found at high latitudes, meaning there is no darkness from mid-April until mid-August. In this period, no Northern Lights can be observed. In the most intense Northern Lights areas (Alaska, Iceland, Northern Scandinavia and Yukon), the lights are observed from late August to mid-April. However, from late September to late March, it is dark after 6pm, and the chances of seeing them are higher. On a yearly basis, the lights are at their peak in September and March. The reasons for this trend are due to the March and September equinox.
As a guideline, the best time to see the lights is between 6pm and 4am as it is the most intense period of the day. The highest probability within this time span is between 10 and 11pm.In the high Arctic, the sun never rises in December and early January, so while you might have more hours in which to see the lights, you will be very limited with the activities you can do during the sunless days. The days will be much longer in February and March. October and November tend to be cloudier, especially in northern Europe.
The lights are not all that bright; a full moon will bleach them out. For this reason, many tours are scheduled around the new moon. Forget seeing the lights in May, June and July – the midnight sun ensures they are well hidden.
According to native North Norwegian Dan, a photographer and a Northern Lights guide in Tromsø, the best time to see the lights is:
“between September and April, as all you really need is darkness, clear skies and some solar activity. But people have different preferences: some come early in the autumn, because the temperature is warmer; some come in winter, in order to combine the trip up here with other snow-based activities; and some come in the early spring to see nature as it comes back to life”
Visiting the places to see the Northern Lights in Alaska or Canada is not always easy, however, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Iceland offer excellent vantage points. Inntravel offers Northern Lights holidays to the best places to see the Aurora Borealis. These include; the Icelandic capital and the world’s most northerly capital city, Reykjavík, as well as to the Norwegian island city of Tromsø. This island city is deep within the Arctic Circle and on the same latitude as Alaska and Siberia. In Tromsø, you can see the Northern Lights every other clear night, if not even more frequently. Inntravel can also take you to the island of Senja, an arctic island off Norway’s north-west coast and the border settlement of Sollia – only some 50 metres or so from the Russian border. We don’t remember the days, we remember the moments, and seeing the Northern Lights will be an unforgettable moment.