See Northern Lights (aurora borealis)
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The Northern Lights have spawned myths and legends related to their source among indigenous peoples wherever they are seen. The magical streaks and curtains of glowing greens, blues, yellows and reds, best experienced under the night sky, are the result of enhanced solar winds commensurate with sunspot activity blowing over Earth’s magnetic field. The particles in the solar wind refract light like mini-prisms as those particles mix into the gases of the upper atmosphere creating the colorful and naturally surreal artwork across the northern sky. Ideally, crisp, cold, cloudless skies with minimal light indicate the best viewing conditions. Although an arctic full moon can hold its own beauty it does not help with the presentation of aurora borealis.
The aurora borealis is best experienced between latitudes 60 and 72 degrees north during winter months with the shoulder seasons extending from August to April and the prime viewing thought to be during the time from late September to March. The light show has been reportedly witnessed as far south as the 35th parallel, roughly the location of such non-northern sites as California and Texas in the USA, the Japanese Island of Honshu, Tibet and the Shandong provinces of China, the Greek island of Crete as well as Pakistan and Afghanistan. However, dependable viewing is only probable north of the 60th parallel which is indicative of locales such as Alaska, Norway, the Yukon and Canada’s Northwest Territories, Greenland, Iceland and Northern Russia. Following is a list of typically chilly locations that are among some of the world’s favorite places to visit where views of the aurora borealis during season are almost guaranteed.
Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital city offers close-by locations where viewing the aurora borealis can be quite dependable. Getting out of the city, though, to the expanse of Þingvellir National Park (Thingvellir), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, provides an opportunity to witness the spectacle without intrusion of city lights while exploring the location of the world’s longest running Parliament and the confluence of the European and North American tectonic plates.
Northern Lights activity can be found in Greenland through much of the year but can't be seen by the human eye during summer times’ Midnight Sun. The more accessible areas south and east of Greenland provide good viewing opportunities. You can see Northern Lights from most parts of the country.
The northern Norwegian town of Tromsø sparkles with aurora borealis activity during winter. The town’s location in Norway, above the Arctic Circle (it’s the largest city within the circle), inside the Northern Lights zone, makes it one of the top places to view the iconic colorful lights. Visitors can board a cruise ship in Tromsø to tour Norway's fjord-lined coast and islands of the arctic and count on wake-up calls while aboard purposed to alert the passengers to head out on deck when the aurora borealis appear.
In Sweden’s Lapland, Abisko National Park, close to the Norwegian border, presents an ideal spot for Northern Lights viewing near the world-famous “Blue Hole of Abisko”, the atmospheric condition that is the result of a much studied micro-climate, almost guaranteeing year around clear skies regardless of surrounding weather conditions. Finland’s Lapland also offers the opportunity to Spend a Night in an Ice Hotel where the largest and first of its kind is located. Finland presents a number of locations where displays of greens and purples are the hallmark of the country’s aurora appearances near the towns of Luosto, Nellim and Kakslauttanen. Kakslauttanen is where a unique “igloo village” is located.
The Faroe Island Archipelago, North of Scotland between the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic is mostly known for scenic landscapes, prolific birding opportunities and stories of Viking conquests. Visitors to this Denmark-owned province can see the vibrantly glowing lights from almost any of the islands at the right time of the year. Scotland as well offers some possibilities for viewing the luminescent displays during winter near Aberdeen, the Isle of Skye, in the Northern Highlands and at Dunnet Head.
Brave the Arctic Cold of Northern Russia for dependable Northern Lights displays. The aurora borealis is often found zig-zagging the horizon in this always cold section of the country. Northern Russia’s Kola Peninsula, a center for outdoorsmen with proximity to the Arctic Circle makes it an ideal location with the Siberian town of Murmansk a logical base.
North America is not without its great places to view the Northern Lights. Alaska affords the best possibilities in the wilderness areas of Denali and the Yukon Territory. Among the most accessible and dependable locations is near the city of Fairbanks but away from the urban lights. The University of Alaska maintains on its website a Northern Lights forecast to help schedule your trip for optimum viewing. http://www.gedds.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast . In Canada the best sightings are found outside the city of Calgary and Manitoba Province with other locations in Ontario and the Canadian Yukon Territory just as worthy. From town of Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories professionally guided Northern Lights tours are offered that culminate in a warm-up in an authentic Native American teepee.
Scheduling your trip of a lifetime to coincide with one of Mother Nature’s most awe inspiring displays to see the aurora borealis in the Northern Hemisphere could truly create stories you will be anxious to share with your friends and family once you have the experience. 2013 presents an opportunity that won’t come around again for more than a decade. What are you waiting for?
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