Top 5 Things to Know about the Northern Lights - Arctic Kingdom Polar Expeditions

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Top 5 Things to Know about the Northern Lights

January 27th, 2013 | By | Filed in Northern Lights - Aurora Borealis

1) What Are The Northern Lights? Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis. The bright dancing lights of the aurora are actually collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun as a result of solar flares. Solar flares are explosions ejected by the Sun. These flares contain charged particles and if they head towards Earth, carried on a solar wind, Earth’s magnetic fields divert them.

Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)

Most of the particles disappear into space but if some enter our upper atmosphere, around the Polar Regions where those magnetic fields converge, then these charged particles react with the gases found there. These magnetic fields create auroral ovals around the top and bottom of our planet which move and distort as the Earth rotates and solar flare activity increases. The lights are seen above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres. They are known as 'Aurora borealis' in the north and 'Aurora australis' in the south. Auroral displays appear in many colours although pale green and pink are the most common. Shades of red, yellow, green, blue, and violet have been reported. The lights appear in many forms from patches or scattered clouds of light to streamers, arcs, rippling curtains or shooting rays that light up the sky with an eerie glow. You have to be within an auroral oval for a chance of seeing this particle/gas reaction hence why you need to travel north. 2) When and where is the best time to see them?

The Northern Lights halo occurs primarily at 60 degree latitude

Auroral activity is cyclic – known as the Sunspot Cycle, peaking roughly every 11 years. Winter in the north is generally a good season to view lights – although this can also be the coldest time. The long periods of darkness and the frequency of clear nights provide many good opportunities to watch the auroral displays but to . Usually the best time of night (on clear nights) to watch for auroral displays is local midnight. Located around both magnetic poles of the earth is a halo like ring called an aurora oval – generally found at the 60 degree latitude in the northern hemisphere. The area directly beneath each aurora oval is the best place to see the aurora most often. North American locations under the northern oval include Yellowknife, Churchill, Iqaluit, Canada, Fairbanks, Alaska. Other parts of the world including Lapland, Norway, southern Greenland and Iceland will also see the northern lights. 3) What Is So Special About 2014? The Sunspot Cycle and how it is linked to sightings of the northern lights. The cycle is generally around 11 years and the 2014 season it reaches its peak, the Solar Max. Sunspots are temporary dark patches which are cooler than the rest of the surface of the Sun and when these increase in number, so too does the amount of solar flare activity and the subsequent possibility of auroral displays. This doesn’t mean you won’t see displays during other periods of the cycle, as activity is constant, just that displays at the peak may be more intense or more frequent. 4) Why Are Displays Different Colours? Colors and patterns are from the types of ions or atoms being energized as they collide with the atmosphere and are affected by lines of magnetic force. Displays may take many forms, including rippling curtains, pulsating globs, traveling pulses, or steady glows. Altitude affects the colors. Blue violet/reds occur below 60 miles (100 km), with bright green strongest between 60-150 miles (100-240 km). Above 150 miles (240 km) ruby reds appear. 5) Will I Definitely See Them?

Viewing Northern Lights over Iqaluit

We suggest locations that have the highest likelihood and where weather conditions are generally better than anywhere else but cannot guarantee sightings. And what’s more, Arctic Kingdom suggests locations where during the day whilst you are not star gazing, there are many activities to keep you occupied while we wait for night to fall. Activities, to name a few, can include dogsledding, igloo building or photographing wildlife. Patience and time is the key as well as a clear, cloudless winter’s night. Displays can occur any time from around 5pm but most activity tends to be a little later. 6) Bonus! How Do I Photograph Them?

Tripods with long exposures are needed to capture the northern lights

We said ‘Top 5’ – but we are going to add one more as we are asked this question very often. Generally you need to keep the camera steady using a tripod as exposures from several seconds to almost 20 give the best results. SLR camera users should try a wide angle lens with a wide aperture as well as setting their ISO levels to high. For further tips, you can ask your Arctic Kingdom trip leader when on your northern lights trip. It takes practice to get the settings right as the northern lights photographs you see in books and postcards showing spectacular night skies have been put together by people with years of experience. This is not to say that complete novices don’t succeed - we’ve had some amazing shots sent in to us. More often than not, people tend to simply stand beneath a display and marvel at its magnificence – also beats having to take your gloves off to try and work your camera! ADDITIONAL INFORMATION Photo Gallery: Click here to visit the Arctic Kingdom Northern Lights Gallery Want to see the Northern Lights with Arctic Kingdom? Check out these 4 trips we have designed to see northern lights: Taste of the Arctic Spring Autumn Caribou and Northern Lights Photo Safari Polar Bear Migration Fly-In Safari Northern Lights Fly-In Lodge

2 Responses to “Top 5 Things to Know about the Northern Lights”

  1. Isabelle says:

    can you at least indent when you start talking about a new topic about the northern lights. It is very hard to keep up with the topics when you do not indent.

  2. MaryBeth McKenzie says:

    Thank you very much for your kind comment. Occasionally, Gmail formatting is affected and we will work on improving the design.

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