The northern lights, also known as aurora borealis, are a sight to behold. They are a natural phenomenon surrounded by mystery and intrigue that should be at the top of any travel bucket list. With solar activity hitting a peak in 2012, the number of northern lights sightings has increased over recent years with the trend expected to continue through 2017. So, now is the time to take advantage of this window, and the travel experts at Cheapflights.com, the online leader in finding and publishing travel deals, are here to help with their informational guide on Nature’s light show: Where, when and how to catch the northern lights this year.
As we all know, Mother Nature is unpredictable and so are her northern lights. Therefore, calculating when and where they will appear is not an exact science. However, with Cheapflights.com’s guide, your odds of a sighting will improve. Below is a sneak peek into the guide, which highlights key tips for seeing the northern lights, along with some of the best places to try and catch them.
These four places in North America offer some of the best chances to see Mother Nature’s light extravaganza:
· Fairbanks, Alaska - Beginning in early September and peaking in the cold, dark nights of winter, the northern lights are most reliably viewed in Fairbanks, Alaska. Fairbanks is geographically under the “aurora oval,” and tour operators like Northern Alaska Tour Company and Salmon Berry Tours offer northern lights tours. The best times for viewing are between 12:30 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. in September and March and between 11:30 p.m. and 3:30 a.m. during the winter. Consult the University of Alaska Fairbanks Aurora Forecast to determine the best days and times to view the northern lights.
· Alberta and Yukon, Canada - There are many places to spot the northern lights in Canada. In the western province of Alberta, the sky becomes ablaze with pulsating color from September to April. Head to Jasper National Park or Wood Buffalo National Park for a chance to see the northern lights, as well as the Milky Way. A spectacular show also takes place in Yukon, Canada’s westernmost territory, each fall. From August to April, it is possible to see the neon green aurora borealis on clear nights.
· Cook County, Minnesota - On clear nights when there is little or no moonlight, it is possible to see the northern lights in Cook County, Minnesota, four-and-a-half hours north of the Twin Cities. The best time to view the streaky, colorful lights is between 9:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m. It’s possible to see the northern lights any time of year on the north shore of Lake Superior, but they are more often seen in winter due to the long nights. Heading outdoors to a location away from the light pollution of the city is all visitors need to see the northern lights, as well as shooting stars and meteor showers, like the Perseid meteor shower from mid-July to mid-August and the Leonid meteor shower in November.
· Browning, Minnesota - Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana is one of the best spots in the U.S. for viewing the northern lights. After a day of hiking the park’s 700 miles of trails and enjoying views of the Rocky Mountains, head to St. Mary in the summertime to sneak a peek at the phenomenal light show, which tends to appear most often in the early morning hours.
Now that you have an idea of where to go, here are some key tips for improving your chances of seeing the northern lights when you get there:
· Timing is everything. It’s impossible to know exactly when and where the northern lights will appear. However, they are most visible in autumn, winter and early spring (approximately September to March). Don’t set your heart on seeing them from April through August in most of the places on our list below, as many are lit by the midnight sun at that time.
· Check the weather and activity. The aurora borealis are best seen on cold, clear nights when there isn’t a full moon. But just standing outside on a cold, clear night in the middle of winter in the middle of nowhere won’t guarantee a sighting. Before heading out, check the auroral forecast. The NOAA Space Prediction Center measures the level of geomagnetic activity as measured by the Estimated Planetary K Index (measured in Kp on a scale of 0 to 9). NOAA’s Space Weather Enthusiasts Dashboard is also a great resource. If the “geophysical activity forecast” is for “storm” levels, then the chances of seeing the northern lights are greater. A more simplified way to determine auroral activity is to check NOAA’s Aurora – 30 Minute Forecast.
· Stay for a while. For the best chance of seeing the northern lights, it’s best to book a trip that is between three and seven days long in a destination at a high latitude, allowing the best chance for weather conditions and auroral activity to line up with your trip.
Other useful tips included in the guide are: location, location, location; stay up late; patience is key and bring your camera and gear. And, for those planning a more extensive trip to see the aurora borealis, the six overseas destinations to round out Cheapflights’ sighting recommendations are: Lapland, Finland; Outside Reykjavik, Iceland; Lofoten Islands and Trøndelag, Norway; Northern Scotland; Lapland, Sweden; and on a cruise along the Norwegian coast. To access Cheapflights.com’s complete guide on Nature’s light show: Where, when and how to catch the northern lights this year visit www.cheapflights.com/news/natures-light-show-where-when-and-how-to-catch-the-northern-lights-this-year.