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.
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.
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.
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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