Where and when to see Aurora Borealis

I’ve always wanted to see the Northern Lights in person and as we plan our winter vacation, I’m thinking this might be the year to do it. What would be the best time to make the trip, and where would we have to go to get the best view? Canada is large and I assume some places have to be better than others.

The farther north you go, the more brilliant are the northern lights.

There is no particular season to aim for. Rather, your trip to watch the aurora should coincide with high solar flare activity.

I’m not aware of all of the physics of the phenomenon, but something to do with solar radiation from the flares playing in earth’s atmosphere or some such.

You can see aurora activity as far south as about the 48th parallel. But to see some of the truly amazing stuff, you should be at about 60 degrees or farther north.

And there’s no guarantee - you may go for 2 weeks without seeing anything or you may see an ongoing celestial night show (it is truly amazing). Recognize there is no accurate prediction of aurora activity before committing yourself to planning a vacation around it.

Of course you need night skies to see the effect. The farther north you go, the shorter the nights are during the summer months and the longer (and colder) are the nights during the winter.

I was fortunate to live in Rankin Inlet Nunavut for a couple of years (66N). The northern lights were a stunning part of the sky.

Right now the solar cycle is at a minimum-so much so that some scientists are worried that magnetic activity may remain low for the foreseeable future.

If you want to make a trip to Fairbanks, it is a fascinating place as are the surroundings. The winter nights are long and dark, and I saw some absolutely amazing displays, often night after night. As pointed out, no guarantee when they might be at work.

If you go, bring long johns (and lots of otehr warm clothes).:smiley:

At the bottom of this page is a map showing how far south auroras are visible for a given K[sub]p[/sub] value. NASA - Space Weather Action Center

The very last (bar) chart shows K[sub]p[/sub] for the past 3 days. Note that K[sub]p[/sub] hasn’t gone above 1. The Sun has been abnormally quiet for months. Except for one recent sunspot group, the Sun has been spotless.

At the moment, the most easily accessible place with the best chance to see the aurora is Alaska. http://www.gedds.alaska.edu/auroraforecast/ Click on buttons at upper left for different views.

Manitoba, away from and north of Winnipeg, is good and western Ontario can be as intense as Fairbanks because of geomagnetism.

I would love to see them as well. I had hoped that there would be a place in the continental US, but after some research it does not appear that there is. I will do so one day though.

They’re pretty common here in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (which is, last time I checked, in the continental US), assuming there’s sunspot activity. Back when Mr. Athena was into stargazing, they were out enough that they ruined his viewing quite a bit.

You can definitely see the Northern Lights from the continental US - I’ve seen them several times. The more northerly you’re located, the better your chances - but on rare occasions they have even been seen as far south as Texas! The keys are a) spend as much time observing the night sky as you can, especially near solar maximum, and b) pay attention to the sun’s “weather.” Spaceweather.com posts predictions of solar storms (which follow big solar flares); these commonly produce very vivid auroral displays. Get in the habit of checking daily, and if a big storm is predicted, go out and look north after dark. It will take persistence, but you’ll eventually be rewarded!

Ha! Where were you guys a few years ago when I was planning my vacation and I asked: Where in the continental US can I see the northern lights? Where were you then, eh? :slight_smile:

Thanks for the information, I will look into it more.

the northern border states can all have good viewings though it can be weeks and months between. to pick a week and want to see them would mean Canada or Alaska.

Not 100% true. For some reason, the auroras do tend to favor the equinoxes.

Well, I think it’s obvious that we were outside, looking at the Northern Lights. :smiley:

Once upon a time, I was a young hitchhiker, headed West and North, as far as the Yukon.

Everyone said, “Don’t worry, if you’re going to the Yukon, you’ll definitely see the Northern Lights!” It was universally acclaimed, no worries.

But it didn’t happen that way at all. We spent a wonderful couple of months in the far north and, while we saw many wild and wonderous things, we never did see the Northern Lights!

We had given up the search, actually. On the train ride back home, across the prairies, and there they were, in all their glory. I believe we were in Saskatchewan actually. It was especially awesome as the train we were on had one of those specialized observation cars with a see through roof. We spent the whole night there watching. It was spectacular.

I have since been fortunate to have seen them again in Ontario, a couple of times.

Be wary of anyone who tells you that you’ll see them here or there, is all I’m saying. Conditions must be just right regardless of where you are so it’s kind of a crapshoot.

Not Canada, but Japan, and I didn’t see them… It was SO frustrating!

We were up at 1am, packing like mad for the removal truck that would arrive at 8 the next morning, and the radio was on. Suddenly the news came on and said that the northern lights were visible about 40km away from where we were.

We were soooo tempted, but we had a baby and a toddler asleep in the next room, and 40km in winter Hokkaido means at least an hour’s drive, so that would have been a minimum of three hours out of the night, and we still had mountains left to pack. So sadly we decided we simply could not go to look, and glumly went on with the packing…

The aurora can be seen in Hokkaido but it’s a rare event, once in tens of years. So that’s it for me I guess, now that we are further south again.

So I wish you great luck in your Aurora hunt, and say hello from me as you watch!

Since this is IMHO, I’m going to say in Principal Skinner’s kitchen? At this time of year, at this time of day, and in this part of the country. Unfortunately, it’s usually localized entirely within the room.

I am in Michigan and see them often,but we don’t get the spectacular displays they get further north.They are still pretty damn cool tho.


There are auroras in Alaska in the summer, the only problem is that the sky never gets dark enough to see them. In winter people tend to spend a lot more time indoors, and there’s often a lot more cloud cover, so even though there are auroras people miss them all the time. And people often simply don’t look up.

But the farther north you go, the better chance of seeing an aurora. With the slight adjustment that we’re talking about magnetic north, not true north. So Canada does better than Europe.

I’ve heard he doesn’t let people see them.

If aurora activity is associated with equinoxes, would that make solstices a potential low point? Sucks to hear they have been low lately, but I’m thinking we could go to Fairbanks, AK and stay there for a week or so and see what happens.