The Northern Lights, or more scientifically the Aurora Borealis( Aurora was the Roman goddess of the dawn, while the word “boreal” means “north” in Latin) have captivated people’s imagination since the beginning of history as they were totally different from anything encountered by them before. This gave birth to numerous myths as the people of the time were trying as much as possible to give an explanation to the phenomenon; as usually, they turned to religion and created some of the most beautiful legends.
See also: How To Photograph The Northern Lights
The Inuit people of Alaska believed that the lights were the spirits of the animals they hunted; the Chinese thought that they were fighting dragons; the Eskimos believed that they were signs of the dead trying to contact friends and families and last but not least, the Vikings considered them to be reflections of dead maidens. Now, in Iceland it is still believed that if a pregnant woman gazes the lights, her child will be cross-eyed.
But as beautiful as these legends may be, what does science have to say about the phenomenon? The Sun is the key; at certain times eruptions take place on the solar surface, eruptions also known as “solar flares”. They release into space large amounts of charged particles in what is known as solar wind. These particles enter The Earth’s magnetic field and are then guided along the lines around the poles. Somewhere between 60 and 400 miles, in the ionosphere, the particles strike the gases found there, which causes them to glow. Oxygen usually causes the lights to be red and green – which is also the most common-, while the nitrogen causes them to become violet. This is how the Northern Lights appear.
There are several places where the mysterious lights can be seen and all of them require extremely warm clothes and in some cases special equipment. These places are: the northern part of Greenland, the Scandinavian coast, Siberia, Iceland, Alaska (in Fairbanks you can witness the lights for 260 days per year). There is also the phenomenon called Aurora Australis in the southern part of the globe, but even though it can be witnessed in some countries (Argentina, New Zealand, Australia) its main spectators are usually… the penguins from Antarctica.
In order to add this experience to your list, it is best to try and reach these locations from October to March. In the rest of the year it is quite difficult to see the Aurora Borealis. Moreover, pick a place somewhere in the countryside as the city lights may be more powerful than the natural lights, thus making the experience useless and much less impressive. Also prepare to be patient: it usually takes some time until the light appear, and when they do, it only happens for 2 to 10 minutes, so be ready to taste every second of it!
Even though in Alaska and Canada there are numerous places where the Northern Lights can be seen with the naked eye, it is highly advisable to have binoculars or other instruments in other locations in order to enjoy the entire beauty of the phenomenon. Also pick a night when the moon is hardly noticeable as a full moon can spoil the entire show. The best hours for watching the lights are between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., when they are the brightest. Now, that you know this tips all you have to do is pick a special tour, as there are many dedicated entirely to watching the Northern Lights; some of them might be a bit spicy in price, but they will definitely worth the effort.