Learn where, when and how to view the solar phenomenon known as the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis.

Northern Lights in NorwayCredit: Big Stock PhotoThe Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, is a natural occurrence that begins in space. It may seem like something farfetched, but the exceptional experience of viewing the Northern Lights is like no other.  Learn what exactly this phenomenon is, where you can see it, when it is most common and why it is such a big deal.  

What Are the Northern Lights?

When there are solar flares in the atmosphere, it generates electrically charged particles that then enter earth’s atmosphere. When these particles enter the atmosphere, they collide into one another over the north and south poles of the earth. The Northern Lights are the ones you see over the North Pole when these solar flares occur. These flares create vibrant colors in the night sky and most often you see green swirls of light but there can also be blue and silvery flashes as well. Each of these different colors is created when a different type of particle is involved with the particles generated from the solar flare. The most common color you see is green in most photos of the Northern Lights because that color is created when the solar particles collide with oxygen molecules in the atmosphere. This natural phenomenon is considered one of the best light shows you can find and Mother Nature orchestrates it all.

Where Can I See The Northern Lights?

Because you can only see the Northern Lights when you are physically close to the North Pole, locations where you can see these spectacular colors include those farthest north. Some areas of Alaska, Scandinavia, Canada and Siberia can see the Northern Lights on a clear night. If you want to view the Aurora Borealis, the best place Northern Norway. There are two counties in particular, Troms and Finnmark that are the ideal locations for viewing the spectacular natural phenomenon. Only when a solar flare is particularly strong, can you see them further south.

When are The Northern Lights Visible?

Viewing is easiest during Winter, simply because it is darker then. If there is a full moon the night sky can be too bright to view the auroras created when the solar flares occur. Cloudy conditions also make it nearly impossible to view the Northern Lights. During Summer, the northernmost parts of the world experience long days with very few hours of darkness and some even experience what is called the Midnight Sun. These conditions mean it is far too bright to view the Aurora Borealis, even if there has been a solar flare that would provide the electronically charged particles that are needed to create an aurora. Sometimes, depending on weather conditions, you may get to see the Northern Lights during Spring and Summer but the chances are much lower than during Fall and especially Winter.

Why are they a Big Deal?

If you have taken the time to view some of the impressive photographs captured of the Northern Lights you probably understand the main draw of this phenomenon. The appearance of waves of vibrant color in the sky seems magical to those who are lucky enough to see them. Many visitors to places where the Northern Lights are visible never had a desire to go to those places until they learned about this amazing phenomenon.