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See the Northern Lights - 7 Tips For Experiencing the Aurora Borealis

By Edited Dec 12, 2013 1 1
Aurora Borealis(110574)

The Northern Lights, or the Aurora Borealis, is a spectacular natural phenomenon which a lot of people dream of seeing. However, due to its rarity and the fact that it can only be viewed in a limited amount of places, few people ever get the chance to actually experience it.

This doesn't mean that you should quit right now, though. If your intentions are to see this magical wonder of nature, you most likely will - you just need to know a few things, such as where and when to look for it. And if you follow these 7 tips, you are practically guaranteed to eventually see the northern lights.

Know Where to See it

The first thing you need to know is where the northern lights commonly appear. It should come as no surprise that the best places to experience it is in the far north of the world. However, since the effect of the northern lights is the strongest in a wide oval around the magnetic north pole, the best places to see it happen to be at the most northern outposts of civilization around the globe.

Great places where the chances are high for spotting the aurora is in northern Alaska, northern Scandinavia, Greenland and Siberia. In addition to this, auroras can also be found in an oval around the south pole - this is called the Southern Lights.

Know What Time of Year to See it

So now you know the places where it occurs, but chances are you don't live anywhere near there. So what time of year should you plan your trip there in order to have the best chances of seeing the northern lights?

The northern lights occur at about the same frequency all year round, but since the sun stays up around the clock during summer above the arctic circle, it's not advisable to go between April and September. You need to have darkness to see the auroras, which makes the winter months perfect, since the nights are long and dark during this time in the north.

However, you don't want to go in the middle of the winter either, unless you want to freeze to death. Since the winters can get extremely cold and hostile so far north, it is recommended to plan your trip in the late autumn or early spring.

Know What Time of Day to See it

The hour of the day has generally no impact on the occurrence of northern lights. However, your chances of actually seeing the phenomenon vary greatly from day to night time. Your best chances occur when the night is as darkest, since this is when your view will be completely unhindered by any distracting sunlight.

Find Out When Aurora Activity is at its Peak

The occurrence of northern lights vary greatly from year to year, depending on the current solar activity on the sun's surface. Some years, the frequency and intensity of the aurora are several times greater than other years.

Luckily, this solar activity is monitored and can be predicted, which makes it easy to prepare for coming increases in aurora activity. For instance, the coming years are believed to yield a tremendous increase in the occurence of northern lights, following the natural variations of solar activity over the last decades.

Don't Take a Weekend Trip - Go For at Least a Week!

If you're serious about experiencing the northern lights, don't just take a weekend trip to the north - go for at least a week. Although the occurrence of northern lights can be quite high at the right times, it's no guarantee that you'll see it. A whole host of things could interfere with your plans, from cloudy nights to plain bad luck.

So just a few days is not optimal if you want to have the best chances of seeing it, since your chances will increase for every day that you stay in the north. Especially since the weather is quite shifting up north, the risk of having more than a few days of cloudy skies is extremely low. So staying for a week or longer will pretty much guarantee at least a few nights of clear skies.

Be Willing to Stay up Late

You won't see the aurora during the day (unless you're really far north, and it's the middle of winter), so you'll have to be prepared to stay up pretty late. And since the phenomenon can occur throughout the entire night, you'll have better chances of seeing it the longer you stay awake.

Working in a group where you take shifts keeping an eye on the sky might be a good idea for this, since you can then cover the entire night and not risk missing the aurora once it occurs.

Watch Weather Announcements

This one should be pretty much obvious - you have to watch the weather announcements to find out if it's even possible to see the night sky. Always stay up to date on which nights will be cloudy, and which will be clear.

However, even if the forecast predicts a cloudy sky, you should be aware that the northern winds can quickly shift and change the weather in just a few hours.


By following these simple tips, anyone (with a little luck) should be able to experience the wonderful phenomenon of the aurora borealis.



Aug 26, 2012 6:49pm
Hi--I have always thought it would be such a wonderful experience to actually see the "northern lights" but I dobt I eer will--nevertheless, thanks for the mindscape. Two thumbs up
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