Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis = Northern Lights
Do you keep a bucket list of places you want to see or things you want to be sure to do before actually kicking the bucket? Me too. Seeing the Northern Lights was one of my priorities when I lived and worked in Denali National Park, Alaska for a summer. I saw them from the McKinley Lodge parking lot right before I left to drive back to Connecticut, the last days of August over the Labor Day weekend. The next thing I did was put the Northern Lights back onto my Second Round Bucket List of great experiences to do again.
In Alaska, Iceland, Northern Scandinavia and the Yukon, it is called the Aurora Borealis. In the south, New Zealand, Tasmania, Australia, and Antarctica, it is referred to as Aurora Australis. Those in Scotland refer to them as the “Merry Dancers.” Wherever you view the northern lights, Fairbanks, Alaska, located within the Auroral Oval, is considered one of the very best places in the world to see them. Astronomers have documented that the northern and southern lights are simultaneously occurring mirror images with the best sightings (depending upon who you ask) between September and March or August to mid-April.
What’s really cool is that you can plan a trip on your own, staying in local home rentals, cozy cabins, yurts, resorts, and hotels or choose to go on a snowmobile adventure or plan to sleep right under the lights (Salmon Berry Tours).
For the less adventurous, Chena Hot Springs Resort offers 100+ degrees hot mineral baths and a most unusual Aurora Ice Museum open year round, along with packaged tours. Or you might consider nighttime Aurora Ice Fishing with the added service of hiring a photographer to capture your very own, personalized Aurora portraits.
I learned the hard way to always call ahead to a local resident or business, such as a museum, astronomy lab, or newspaper to see if they are actually seeing the lights when you plan to pay a visit. The best visibility seems to be on dark nights in the fall, winter or early spring, depending upon the weather and other conditions. You can’t count on a nightly appearance at a certain time, but location is key.
I read an article about Northern Lights being visible in Maine; however, when I called the local Science Museum, was told it was a misprint. The director lived in that town for more than 20 years and never saw the lights in his backyard. The Northern Lights can be unpredictable and cannot be counted on to appear at specific times and locations. Sign up for free alerts on sightings info wherever you might be: https://cdn.softservenews.com/Aurora.htm.
There are aurora borealis guided tours, or you can simply book lodgings and venture out over the course of several nights when you’re trying to spot them. Consider staying at Borealis Basecamp in an igloo. Or visit Trosmo, Norway (October to March) or attend their annual Northern Lights Festival in January. For viewings from August through early May, consider a trip to Iceland or during the summer experience the Midnight Sun. I loved hiking and playing golf at midnight in Alaska during the summer; however many others found it hard to sleep in a place with constant light.
Take a good look at your bucket list to see if this is one of those great trips you can make to shorten that list. Sleeping under the stars is great but sleeping under the Northern Lights is a spectacular, once (or twice or more) lifetime experience.