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The Best Time For Seeing The Northern Lights - Aurora Borealis

Updated on August 7, 2012

On this page we are going to be having a look at when exactly the best time to see the Northern Lights is. If you are in search of the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis as it is also known, this page should give you some handy tips in order to help you see this wonder of nature. So if you are wondering when it is best to look for the Aurora then this page will give you the answers you are looking for.

The Aurora Borealis really is the stuff of legends. This mystical glow seen high in the northern skies is actually just solar particles colliding with the earth’s atmosphere. This simple process which happens on a regular basis creates some spectacular results. People travel from all over the world to see the Northern Lights, however, they often end up being disappointed. Even if you travel to the far North and find the perfect location with crystal clear skies, you are still not guaranteed to see the Aurora. The reality is that you need a little bit of luck and some forward planning. So when should you be looking for the Aurora? Well we are going to look at three different time periods. First of all what time of day or night should you be looking, then what time of year and finally which year or years are the most likely to produce good light displays.

Daytime Aurora

The Best Time Of Night To See The Northern Lights

So first of all let’s assume you are already in a location suitable for the Aurora Borealis to be viewed. What time should you be getting yourself outside to look skywards? Well the reality is that Auroras can happen at any time of the day or night. As mentioned earlier, the lights are caused by solar particles drifting from the sun. These particles can come at any time in a twenty four hour period, they do not run on any kind of schedule. So there is no set time for a high level of activity in the sky to take place.

However, common sense comes into play here. Obviously for the best viewing you want darkness. A high level of activity will not be as visible in the middle of the day when the sun is bright and high in the sky. As you can see from the picture, you can get some nice views during daylight, but this kind of display would look far better at night. For best viewing conditions you need total darkness. The darker the better and so people generally say that the best viewing times are later at night, ideally between 10pm and 2am. These tend to be the hours you are most likely to see something, but again there is no hard and fast rule, you could see the Aurora much earlier or much later.

The Northern Lights

What Time Of Year Does The Aurora Borealis Take Place?

So now you know what time of day to be looking for something, what time of year should you plan a trip if you are travelling to see the lights? Well again this is a tricky question to answer. Traditionally people will tell you that wintertime in the Northern Hemisphere is best for viewing. Usually the months of October through March are considered the best. This is simply due to the fact that there are more hours of darkness. If you travel along way north, in the summer months there are very few hours of darkness, hence the reason why viewing is very limited in the summer time.

Another factor though that many people do not take into consideration is the equinox. Around the two equinoxes in late March and late September, solar activity tends to be increased. This produces more Solar Storms which in turn leads to better Northern Lights displays. So although the hours of darkness may not be as great at this time of year, some of the highest levels of activity can often be found at these times.

If you are looking to play it safe though you probably stand a greater chance of viewings in the middle of winter. So if you are planning a trip north aim for sometime between November and February.

2012/13 The Lights Reach Their Peak

The Best Years For The Northern Lights

It may surprise you to learn that the year you go in search of the Aurora will also have a bearing on your chances of witnessing the phenomenon. Some years there is far more solar activity than others, some years we have lots of lights shows whereas other years can be very quiet. This is due to the Solar Cycle. The sun runs on an eleven year cycle, you could compare it to a very slow heartbeat. Every eleven years or so it beats and there are is lots of activity on the surface of the sun causing large solar storms which in turn fling massive amounts of particles towards our earth. A few days after a solar storm the Northern Lights become very active.

So when exactly does this cycle reach it’s peak? Well the years of 2012 and 2013 are predicted to be when the sun is at it’s most active. This means over these two years and possibly even into 2014 the Aurora Borealis will be at it’s most spectacular. This means more nights of displays and the glowing lights you see will be far more intense and impressive. So if you have been considering a trip north for a while now, take your chance and plan your visit for these years. After 2014 the level of activity will drop down to a far lower level, there will still be displays every now and again, but the chances of seeing something will be reduced.

One good tip we can give you if you are in search of the Aurora is to check the forecast. Scientists can now predict the lights much like they can the weather. They simply monitor the activity of the sun and then work out what level of activity we are going to see in our skies. When there has been a solar storm, a few days later the level of activity will be greatly increased. If you want an Aurora forecast there are several sites online that offer predictions that are usually quite accurate.

The Northern Lights really are one of the things that everyone should have a chance to see at least once in their lives. This beautiful, majestic display will take your breathe away. Many people spend a great deal or time, energy and money in pursuit of the Aurora Borealis. But if you know exactly when the best time to be looking for it is, then your chances are greatly increased and you stand a good chance of catching a glimpse of the most spectacular light show on earth.


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