The Northern Lights, or ‘Aurora borealis’ are displays of light in the atmosphere that appear in many forms and colours. They are caused by collisions of gas particles in the Earth’s atmosphere with charged particles released from the Sun. The lights can be seen at both magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres, but are more visible at the north, as the southern lights are concentrated in a ring around Antarctica and the southern Indian Ocean.
The colours of the lights can vary enormously, but the common shades are pale green and pink. More unusual colours have been reported from red, yellow, violet, blue and bright greens. The lights also vary in their forms, and can be viewed as rippling waves, shooting rays, arcs and streamers.
If you have ever wanted to see the magical Northern lights, and are thinking of planning a trip in order to view them, you need to book quickly, as 2013 was considered to have the best possible conditions for seeing them. Nasa scientists state that the current period of solar maximum activity, governed by an 11-year cycle, will peak at the end of December 2013, and this affords the very best chances for some spectacular viewings. All is not lost however, as the conditions for these stunning displays of light are expected to last a few more months.
As the lights are a natural phenomenon, there is no guarantee that you will see them, but to maximise your chances you should visit countries situated in the north and the winter, stay away from as much artificial light as you can by travelling to smaller towns or villages, and allow yourself as much time as you can. The best places to view the lights are in Northern Europe, such as the southern tip of Greenland, Iceland, the northern coast of Norway and north of Siberia. You can also get good sightings in North America and the northwestern parts of Canada, in particular the Yukon, Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Alaska.
The Northern Lights are proving to be an evermore popular destination for tourists, and as such, travel operators are putting together specialist packages for sightseers.
Here’s some of the more interesting:
Exclusive to The Aurora Zone, these bubbles are heated bedrooms in northwest Lapland, which are complimentary to your hotel room, and have a large north-facing window, allowing you to watch for lights. There are also daytime activities including snowshoe hikes, cross-country skiing, and a husky safari. The Muotka Northern Lights Adventure costs from £1,895 price per person based on 2 people; with a night in a bubble costing an additional £135 per person. From Aurora Zone.
Beyond the Arctic Circle
Why sit in a hotel waiting for the lights to come to you when you can take to the seas aboard the renowned Hurtigruten coastal steamer? Taking you along Norway’s fjord-indented coastline, your destination is the stunning Lofoten Islands that literally rise up from the sea. During the day you will stay in one of the cosy old fisherman’s cottages on Vestvågøy Island, and at night you can venture out at night scanning the skies for the Northern Lights. Prices start from £1598 per person based on 2 sharing. From Inn Travel.
Northern Lights & Winter Walks, Northern Iceland
If you’re not a fan of the cold, but still want to experience the wonders of the northern lights, how about immersing yourself in one of Northern Iceland’s geothermal pools? You can lie back in the soothing warm of the bubbling water and watch out for the stunning lights. It’s not all about the lights however, as North Iceland is chock full of volcanoes, lakes, and cross-country skiing as well as alpine skiing. Costs start from £2,025. From Off The Map Travel.
Walking in the Winter Highlands
If you don’t want to travel so far away, why not take a trip up to Scotland? As the forecast for spotting the northern lights are still pretty good, you have a great chance of viewing them from closer to home. Wilderness Scotland are offering a four-night stay in the Scottish Highlands, which features an experienced aurora guide and guided walks through forests and along lochs. Stars, Snow and Storms – Walking in The Winter Highlands is priced from £645, including all travel from Inverness. From Wilderness Scotland.