Category: northern lights

How Science Creates (And You Can See) The Best Aurora Shows On Earth

“It surprises a lot of people who’ve seen still photos of the aurora when they see it for themselves, with their own eyes, for the first time. Auroral displays aren’t static, but rather move quite quickly, like a green, diffuse curtain being pulled and swirled across the sky. The best views of the aurora — and I hate to say it, because most of us will never experience it firsthand — is from above the Earth’s atmosphere, in outer space.

But the second best place to view the aurora is from anyplace within about 30 degrees of the Earth’s magnetic pole. This includes much of northern Canada and Russia, northern Norway, Sweden and Finland, as well as all of Iceland, Greenland, and (in the south) Antarctica. Even without a spectacular solar event to coincide with them, aurorae in these locations are commonplace. Although you can see them at any time of the year, the best time to view them is in the winter, when you have the greatest number of hours of darkness, when you’re coincidentally experiencing clear skies.”

The Sun emits charged particles, in the form of the solar wind, on a continuous basis. Our Earth’s magnetic field deflects most of them away, but when magnetic field lines connect between the Sun and Earth, particles get funneled down into rings around the poles. A coronal mass ejection or solar flare can greatly enhance this, leading to the most spectacular auroral displays human eyes have ever laid sight upon. There are a slew of great locations around the world where you can see them, and I’ll be leading an expedition to one of them, Iceland, next January.

Whether you’ve ever seen them (or are headed to see them) or not, you won’t want to miss the incomparable sights and science of the best aurora shows on Earth!