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What Is The Difference Between The Northern Lights & Southern Lights?

Updated on January 22, 2012

If you are wondering if there is any difference between the Northern Lights and the Southern Lights, this page is designed to give you the answer. The Aurora Borealis in the North and the Aurora Australis in the South are both two of the most exciting spectacles you can witness here on earth. Today we will look at what exactly these Northern and Southern Lights are and what the differences are between them.

Both the Northern and Southern Lights have been capturing the imagination of people for centuries. These beautiful light displays can be witness in the far reaches of both hemispheres, they are both spectacular and entrancing. You tend to find that the Aurora Borealis is the North gets more publicity, but the fact is that the Southern Lights can be just as impressive.

The Aurora

So What Is The Difference?

First of all let’s get straight to the point. Other than geographical location, there really is no difference to the Northern Lights and the Southern Lights. They both take place over the polar regions and are basically the same phenomenon. Although if you see either of the displays you are witnessing the same thing, there are reasons why the Northern Lights tends to be a lot more popular and far easier to see.

The fact is that around the Arctic in the North there are various land masses. We have Canada and Alaska, Greenland, Norway, Russia and a few other places that stretch high into the Arctic Circle where the Aurora is most active. Due to this fact there are lots of places you can go to view the lights. There are also lots of settlements located far enough North that people are going to see the Aurora Borealis on quite a regular basis. However, in the Southern Hemisphere it is a very different story. The Antarctic is surrounded by open water, there is very little land and even fewer areas that are populated by people. This makes catching a glimpse of the Aurora Australis far more difficult.

When you look online you can find lots of articles and pictures of the Northern Lights, whereas the Southern Lights tend to get far less press coverage. Your best bet for viewing the Aurora in the South is to hop on a cruise ship and head down as far as they will take you. That said you can view the lights from places such as New Zealand, Argentina and The Falklands. But more often than not if people want to view the Aurora they tend to head North.

The Northern Lights

See The Northern Or Southern Lights

So if you are reading this and fancy catching a glimpse of the Aurora yourself, how exactly do you go about doing it? Well the fact is that unless you live in the far North or South you are going to have to travel. There are various places that you can visit that offer great viewing locations. For your best chances of viewing you want to visit in the winter months, so in the North that’s ideally October through April and in the South May through September. The more hours of darkness the better as this will greatly increase your chances of seeing something.

You can also get Aurora forecasts. These only usually run a few days in advance but they can give you a good idea of how active the Aurora is going to be and even where it is most likely to be viewed. It is also worth remembering that the Aurora runs on a cycle, this means some years tend to have higher levels of activity than others. For instance 2011 was a very poor year whereas 2012 and then 2013 are expected to be very good years for viewing the lights.

If you are one of the fortunate people who does get to go and witness this extraordinary phenomenon then you really are in for a treat. As mentioned there really is no difference between the Northern Lights and Southern Lights, both are truly wonderful and are something everyone should try and see.


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    • profile image

      Anonymous 16 months ago

      Thanks a lot really helping! for my project at shcool!

    • profile image

      dfdfdfdfdf 5 years ago

      thanks helped me heaps with my assignment

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      We learned about the lights at a recent visit to a Planetarium. They are the result of solar flares and you are correct that the next 2 years are going to result in more showings of the Northern Lights and Southern Lights. You don't have to live very far toward the poles to see them, either. We can enjoy the Northern Lights here in Oregon (Pacific Northwest of the USA). Cheers, Steph

    • Rob Winters profile image

      Rob Winters 6 years ago

      Very interesting stuff.I'd bet many people haven't even heard of the lesser mentioned Aurora Australis.Maybe one day i'll get to see them for myself.Up & Interesting.