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The aurora borealis is about to enter the most spectacular phase of its 11-year cycle. Our experts reveal the best places to see one of the planet's greatest natural shows.
Seeing the northern lights is a truly unforgettable travel experience, but one that is largely dependent on luck. As a traveller with limited time, you must do all you can to increase your chances of catching a show. This winter, the lights enter the most lively phase of their 11-year cycle, meaning the next three years are a great time to go. And there's plenty of choice when it comes to where to go; Scandinavia, Canada, Alaska ... even Scotland, each of which have lovely places to hole up and turn your eyes skyward, as our insiders reveal ...
The aurora borealis is one of the most sublime and magnificent natural phenomena on Earth. From our earliest records and folk tales, we know humans have long speculated as to what it might be. Inuits have many legends that explain them as spirits of the dead. Aristotle thought it was glowing air gushing from cracks in the sky. The appearance of the red aurora in medieval times was feared as a bad omen or a sign of God's anger. Charles Hall, a 19th-century polar explorer exclaimed: "Who but God can conceive such infinite scenes of glory?"
The glow is caused by high-energy electrons colliding with oxygen atoms and nitrogen molecules. The basic process is the same as that of a neon sign, which involves a vacuum and a high voltage electrical discharge. The electric power is generated by a combination of the solar wind, a hot ionized gas blowing out from the sun, and the Earth's magnetic field. This produces more than 1,000 times the electrical power of the world's largest power plant.
"The northern lights capital of the world has to be the sub-Arctic city of Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories. There's nothing like standing on the surface of a frozen lake, in total dark and cold, watching ribbons of greenish light run and ripple and play crack the whip across the heavens".
In Iceland it only takes 20 minutes to drive from the capital to a place to see the northern lights. In other countries you need to go to more remote areas. Many people head to Thingvellir national park. There's no hotel there but it's close to Reykjavík:
The lights are visible nearly every night in Swedish Lapland, and 6pm to 2am is the best time. On some nights they may be very faint and disappear quickly, while on others they will be brighter and visible for several hours.
Norway is in the centre of the northern lights zone, so the probability of seeing it is close to 100% on any cloud-free night between October and March.
The Fairbanks area is a convenient site for seeing the aurora but for the best viewing, get away from the city lights to the hilltops 20 miles north of town, where there are facilities for aurora watchers
Near Ivalo airport, the glass igloos of Hotel Kakslauttanen (+358 16 667100, kakslauttanen.fi/en) are designed specially for watching the lights
haven't seen the northern lights for a while, but the further north you go the better, so head to the remote regions of the Highlands and Islands, particularly the north-east, such as Nairn
Kangerlussuaq, and neighbouring Sisimiut, just above the Arctic circle in the south-west of the country are the best places, because of the stable climate and many days with clear skies. Around that area are many great hiking trails, and you can go dog-sledding, snowmobiling and skiing.
Those igloos look really like a really cool place to see the northern lights!
Originally posted by anon72
Man I wish I could esperience these things in person. If I had my choice. I think I would like to do it in Alaska-first and then at those crazy cool igloos in Finland. How neat is that (see the igloos in the pic in OP).
I think its a great idea,we've made them number one so I think a field trip isn't too much to ask!!
Originally posted by anon72
reply to post by TWILITE22
Dam that sounds like the start of a GREAT IDEA. ATS Sponsored tours/trips!!!!
I would like to say I could go soon but I can't. My vacation plans are already made until the end of 2012 (
I hope ATS owners read this one. Yes, tours to places that interest us. Roswell, Dulce, Egypt, Peru etc etc.
Hmmmm. Think about it. Heck, I would even offer my services as Trip Director... )