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Why you have to see northern lights in 2017

Northern lights in 2017 - Luca Travels Around

Last updated on 03/07/2017 at 15:33:28

I know that you have a bucket list of places to visit absolutely before it’s too late. Or you’re too old, who knows. And it’s also probable that, in these lists, there is an entry corresponding to northern lights. So why I’m telling you to see northern lights in 2017, when your schedule might be already fulfilled? Well, go ahead with this article to find out!

Northern lights: technicalities

I’m glad northern lights are not an Apple product, or their explanation for the phenomenon would be “It’s magic”. In the Middle Ages, there were a lot of people believing in magic as something was obscure to understand, so they just sent suspicious people to the stake and that’s it, magic solved.

Now if you burn someone alive, there’s the risk you won’t see northern lights because of the glow the poor guy will emit with the flames, so don’t do it! Northern lights are a product of the solar activity, and the brighter the place you’re in, the worst you’ll see them.

Northern lights - Luca Travels Around

Isn’t a contradiction saying that they’re a result of solar activity and you need a dark place to see them? No, and I’ll try to keep the reason simple.

Around the earth there’s something called magnetosphere, that is a region in space, around every celestial object, where charged particles are controlled by that object’s magnetic field. Every charged particle entering this magnetosphere behaves according to the magnetic field.

When the solar wind (basically a stream of charged particles) meet a magnetosphere, it disturbs its particles, the atoms lose charge and they fall in the upper atmosphere. This process emits light and… et voilà, your northern lights!

And that’s why the best way to see the northern lights is going north: the magnetic field at the poles is weaker and easier to disturb.

Northern lights in 2017: why

You now know it’s not some magic that creates northern lights, but it’s mainly because of the sun. And that’s the reason you should hurry up and see the northern lights this year: the solar cycle is on its way down, so the chances to catch them are going fewer and fewer as years pass by.

The solar cycle is an 11-years period when the solar activity reaches an apex and then well, goes down. Less solar activity means less chance to see northern lights, and 2017 is probably the last decent year to see them reasonably.

Hathaway Cycle 24 Prediction

As you can see from the image above, we are going toward a new low on the solar cycle, that will hit in 2020. If you miss seeing the northern lights it maybe takes you a decade before having again more chances to attend this gorgeous natural show!

Where to see northern lights in 2017

Well, as I said before, this is probably the last year in which we could still have enough chances to saw this event regularly, so it doesn’t really change that is 2017 instead of 2015: you have to go north.

Wait, you said before I can see these lights close to one of the poles, so why only north?

Because the so-called auroral zone, the area in which auroras play in the sky, in the southern hemisphere is basically only above the South Pole. Now, don’t you think that seeing the northern lights in Iceland, Norway, or Alaska, would be easier than in the South Pole?

Every region close enough to this auroral zone is the perfect match for the northern lights. That means entering the Arctic Circle as much as possible and in Europe, the best places to see northern lights are Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Iceland, in order.

Tromsø, in Norway, is probably the most renown city for hunting northern lights, but other famous spots are Inari, Abisko, Alta and Karasjok. The upper area of Russia is inside the Arctic Circle, so just pick the easiest place for you to reach. In North America as well you can see northern lights, both from Canada and Alaska, in Fairbanks for example, but the risk is to step in a too remote place, where’s there absolutely nothing else to do.

Aurora borealis - Luca Travels Around

Anyway, remember a few tips:

  • Stay away from the sea. The warm temperature of the water could cause clouds, and you won’t see a thing.
  • Stay away from the cities. Less light pollution, better results. Just go on a tour starting from the place you chose and let them drive you away in the wilderness when there’s nothing but nature.
  • Beware of the moon! Same reason as before. Plan your trip according to the moon phases. When our satellite is in the new moon phase, there is less light in the sky and that’s the best way to see northern lights.
  • Don’t go in winter. It’s not necessary to go north when it’s cold, the aurora activity starts in August and lasts until April, there are many months to choose from.
  • Don’t go too north. Svalbard islands are the perfect example. They’re so north you can see amazing northern lights basically only when the activity is low (like in 2020) otherwise, the auroral zone widens and they remain in the “bull’s eye”, with nothing above.

If you want to better understand what’s behind all of this phenomenon, check out this amazing and thorough article!

When to see northern lights in 2017

As I said before, it’s not strictly necessary to go in winter. The aurora activity usually starts in August and lasts until April so, considering how cold are the places far north, it will be wiser to avoid winter.

Anyway, winter has some advantages. Almost no daylight, for example, allows you to have more time to enjoy northern lights if they show up. But in my opinion, it ends here.

With some daylight, you could at least do something outside during the day, enjoying the surroundings. And you don’t screw up completely your circadian rhythm!

March and September seem to be probably the most profitable months to go, it will be much warmer, and you can enjoy the whole day. Plus, the weather should be better too, since in winter having a clear sky is more difficult.

Just think about planning in advance, this kind of trip is going to be quite expensive, even if it’s worth it!

Did I convince you to hunt for northern lights this year? Or did you already saw them in the past? Tell me about it!

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Why you have to see northern lights in 2017 - Luca Travels Around

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39 CommentsLeave a comment

    • About September, it should be perfect. A friend of mine living in Trondheim told me in September they already see northern lights in the sky, so I assume that if you go further north, it should be even better. 😉

  • I didn’t know they went on a cycle like that; now I’m concerned that I should just try and go this year to take advantage. Maybe Iceland or Norway in September? I don’t want to go when it’s too cold. They look amazingly beautiful in your photos though!

    • Both destinations should be perfect in September. Of course, The risk of bad weather is always constant, but if you manage to stay for some days you’ll have more chances to get them!
      About Norway there’s this cool site you can check:
      Anyway, it goes without saying, a better forecast is a short term forecast…

  • I love this post. I’ve seen the northern lights a few time, always in unexpected times and places, but they are on my bucket list this year. I want to seek them out somewhere they’ll be really spectacular, like Iceland or Norway. I’ve seen them in Quebec and Wisconsin, oddly enough!

  • 2017 is probably the last decent year to see them?! Wow I didn’t know that. Well, I will definitely have to go this year then. Good to know it doesn’t have to be in winter either since I would much rather go when it is not that cold 🙂

  • Here in Sweden there is actually facebook groups keeping track of when the likelihood of seeing the northern lights is the highest. Not to mention all the additional sights tracking the sun activity. For my part I have not been lucky enough to see it. It is sometimes possible to see it in Stockholm, but I have always been in an area with too much light (or been asleep). Hopefully one day during 2017, I should probably try to go a bit further up north. 🙂

    • I guess in Scandinavia the boards, groups, and sites about northern lights are like the ones forecasting the waves for the surfers at lower latitudes 😀
      For sure you’re one step ahead, living already in Sweden 😀

  • What a fantastic post! I had no idea the how the lights are created and perhaps more importantly how to see them! LOVE the information and science behind things like this. Thanks for sharing. I’m sharing on social media to spread the word!

  • Total bucketlist item right here! I have always wanted to see them in Alaska though, is that too far north?? Iceland is on my to do list as well so I guess I need to get going!

    • Alaska is not too far north, I’d say it’s in the right position! Anchorage should be good to spot northern lights, Fairbanks should be perfect!

    • I’m sorry to hear that but you’re going to Africa, that would be amazing too, don’t you think? 😉
      I’m crossing my fingers with you as well for next year!

  • Thank you for re-affirming what I fear. I dont know if I can manage to see the Northern lights but your post has put a fear of missing it out if I don’t try this year. Thanks for the helpful tips on when and where to catch them

    • I’m sorry, if I only discovered this before, I would have written about it some months ago, maybe you would have been able to manage better that trip this year 🙁
      I hope you still can manage to see northern lights before it gets difficult!

  • Northern lights are top on my list but, this is that one article which perfectly explains the phenomenon taking place. And now it is time to hurry up towards those magnificent lights!

    • I didn’t know it was possible to spot them at such low latitude! Still, not big ones I think, but still better than nothing!

  • We are lucky enough to live in a place where we can occasionally see a hint of the lights, but nothing like the pictures you are posting. I was thinking they were only visible in winter, but going in autumn is a much better idea. Great suggestions on where and when to see them!

  • This is a great easy to follow guide. We thought we might be able to see see the northern lights on our trip to Scotland but we didn’t. After reading the guide I understand why we didn’t see anything as a lot of the ideal conditions were not met and wrong time of year.

    • Thanks 🙂
      I know in Scotland is possible to see it, but you have to be extremely lucky, and in the northernmost part too!

  • I need to start planning soon then. I have been in awe of the Northern Lights and I am hoping I can get to see them at least this year. Nice tip on not going near the sea to see them.

    • I didn’t know that tip until a few months ago! I hope you can check northern lights out of you bucket list this year 😉

  • I’ve lived in Lapland and Iceland, so I’m addicted to northern lights shows 🙂 It’s such a magnificent and unique view! Everyone should see it at least once in a live.

  • This post just keep inspiring me to get there one day! Amazing and unique thing to see and to shot! Really interesting article, sure right now I know more details than before! thank you for sharing this information and your nice pictures

  • Oh my goodness, this is just a perfect article to read! Seeing the northern lights is one of the items in my 2017 bucketlist and I just really have to see it. This post makes me more excited to go. Thanks for the tips!

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