Planning a Northern Lights Vacation
If you're going to make a special trip to see the Northern Lights, your best bets are either the month of September or the month of March. Earth's orbit is in a maximum of solar activity at these times of year. Earth's orbit reaches a high heliographic latitude, where solar wind speed is higher -- hence more activity. During a 55-year period of observation, scientists found that auroras occur most frequently in September and March [source: Swanson]. These months are also relatively mild in temperature -- sure, you can see the lights really well in the winter, but do you want to do it in temperatures of minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 40 degrees Celsius)? The months in which you're least likely to catch the Northern Lights are January and July, so don't make aurora borealis travel plans then.
Where there's a demand for Northern Lights viewing, there's somebody trying to sell you the experience. For example, a Fairbanks, Alaska, cabin advertises its establishment as a spot to view the light show -- with large windows facing north and lots of hot chocolate to drink [source: Aurora Borealis Lodge]. In Sweden, you can take a chairlift ride up a mountain to a campsite where you have an open view of the skies. If you happen to fall asleep when the light show begins, a guide will even wake you up [source: Aurora Sky Station]. And in Saariselka, Finland, a hotel's glass igloos, each heated and complete with a king-sized bed, kitchen and bathroom, provide you with an panoramic view of the show, assuming the show is on the night you're there [source: The Hotel Kakslauttanen].
You can even scan the skies for the Northern Lights while enjoying a cruise in Norway. Hurtigruten is one of the many cruise lines that will take you through the Arctic Circle during the peak of Northern Lights viewing opportunities.
You can find dozens more aurora borealis viewing experiences online or through a travel agent. You can see the light in the United States, Canada or Europe.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
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More Great Links
- Associated Press. "Japan Air adds Alaska flights for Northern Lights tourists." USA Today. Dec. 19, 2007. (Mar. 19, 2009) http://www.usatoday.com/travel/flights/2007-12-19-japan-air-alaska_N.htm
- Belcher, Ian. "Let There Be Northern Lights." Times Online. March 4, 2007. (March 19, 2009) http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/travel/destinations/europe/article1462418.ece
- CBC News. "Lights, camera, action: Yellowknife to share aurora borealis with world." CBCNews.ca. Feb. 26, 2009. (March 19, 2009) http://www.cbc.ca/technology/story/2009/02/26/aurora-max.html
- Dupont, Dan. "This One Goes to 11: Solar Cycle Heats Up, Threatens Satellites." Wired.com. April 19, 2008. (March 19, 2009) http://blog.wired.com/defense/2008/04/this-one-goes-t.html
- Exploratorium. "Auroras: Paintings in the Sky." June 19, 2001. (March 19, 2009) http://www.exploratorium.edu/learning_studio/auroras/seethem.html
- Geophysical Institute. "The Geophysical Institute Auroral Forecast Page." University of Alaska Fairbanks. 2009. (March 19, 2009) http://www.gedds.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast/
- Iceland Total. "Iceland Northern Lights." IcelandTotal.com. 2009. (March 19, 2009) http://www.icelandtotal.com/home/faq/detail/store65/item2374/
- Library of Congress. "What are the northern lights?" Everyday Mysteries: Fun Science Facts from the Library of Congress. Feb. 12, 2009. (March 19, 2009) http://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/mysteries/northernlights.html
- Lloyd, Robin. "Solar Storm Brought Northern Lights to Texas, Georgia, San Jose." Space.com. April 3, 2001. (March 19, 2009) http://www.space.com/spacewatch/aurora_sightings_010402.html
- Poker Flat Resource Range. "The Aurora: Frequently Asked Questions." August 19, 1999. (March 19, 2009) http://www.pfrr.alaska.edu/aurora/faq.htm
- Schembari, James. "A Bed Under Glass in the Land of the Aurora." New York Times. Jan. 18, 2009. (March 19, 2009) http://travel.nytimes.com/2009/01/18/travel/18journeys.html
- Swanson, Bob. "Answers: The Best Places to see the northern lights." USA Today. August 30, 2005. (March 19, 2009) http://www.usatoday.com/weather/resources/askjack/2003-10-10-northern-lights_x.htm