I was reading in the paper about how many Japanese tourists go to northern Alaska to see the aurora from “late August to late April”.
Isn’t there still too much light in August for good viewing? Sure seems like it would be warmer, but aren’t your chances better for seeing the aurora while you are freezing your butt off in January?
A few years back I decided I wanted to see the aurora and did a bunch of research. Yes, you will be guaranteed lots of black sky in December and January. It will also be so dam friggin’ cold you will not want to be there. Somewhere, I read that there is actually a slightly higher chance of the aurora forming to begin with around the equinoxes, but I don’t remember why.
I did see it, but it wasn’t a particularly spectacular one, so I will have to travel north again some time and stay longer, which is the only way to have a good chance of a fine viewing.
Also, I was told that the reason a lot of Japanese tourists, honeymooners in particular, go to “see” the aurora is that it is considered very lucky for a child to be conceived under an aurora. Which explains why we never saw any of the Japanese tourists. When we were outside looking at the sky, they were indoors trying to start babies.
Late August is as close to the equinox as late April is. As for the equinox (or times close to that) being somehow optimal, my guess is that it’d have something to do with the magnetic pole being on the terminator line, but I don’t know for sure.
We get aurora borealis action in western Canada after the Perseid meteor showers the second week of August, so I’m not surprised at the timing. The best shows I’ve seen here were in September/October.
From the latitude of Denali National Park (63 N), on August 20, the Sun bottoms out at about 15 degrees below the horizon. That’s dark enough to see any reasonably bright aurora.
However . . . the hours of adequate darkness are relatively few, and centered around 2:00 a.m. (because of DST and Alaska’s off-kilter time zone choice), so you’ll have to stay up late.
If it were me, I’d wait until September for the optimal combination of adequate and early darkness, reasonable temperature, and good chance of aurorae. But far be it from me to discourage randy Japanese tourists.
It’s possible, but not probable that there will be amazing Aurora Borealis shows in August. I lived in Fairbanks for a number of years and we found the Northern Lights to be the most brilliant and amazing from mid-October to mid-March.
During a great deal of that time it’s really freakin’ cold, but the Aurora is the only thing I know of that will make long time residents and newbies alike get out of their cars in the middle of the road when it’s -30, just to stare at the sky!
Of course the auroras happen all through the year, day and night alike. It’s just that you can’t see them in the daytime or the twilight, and in the summer in Alaska (even as far south as Anchorage) you don’t get much actual night, just daylight and twilight.
So you certainly can see an aurora at any time of the year when it is completely dark, there’s just a lot more complete darkness in the winter. Icefog can also obsure the skies, but that tends to be localized to cities. I grew up in Fairbanks and can’t remember ever seeing an Aurora in the summer simply because it was never dark enough.