With the first month of the calendar year already gone by, the winters too are on their way out. But as the nights get shorter, and the tropical heat comes calling, there is salvation to be found elsewhere. Take a respite from the Tropics between now and April to discover the greatest light show on Earth — that too from different vantage points. Here’s our ready reckoner of the best views of the Northern Lights from all over the world in this exclusive guide.
Picture it. You stand upon the icy surface of a frozen lake, somewhere north of the Arctic Circle. Before you lies a vast expanse of flat, barren ice, stretching far into the distance, where it mingles with the darkened abyss and nothingness of nighttime. Behind you, the rustle of pine leaves plays a silent ode, while above, an inky sky reveals a spatter of dotted stars, numbering higher than you would have ever imagined was possible. As you watch the celestial bodies turn and dance in their imperceptible choreography, you begin to notice a shift. Somewhere, a vague, green smudge begins to materialize, like the stroke of a wet paintbrush upon an obsidian canvas. You watch in awe as the colours manifest above you, first green, then pink, setting the night sky ablaze.
One of nature’s most majestic artistic displays, the Aurora lights have captured the curiosity of humans around the globe for thousands of years. A source of both speculation and superstition, ancient cultures looked to these heavenly apparitions for blessings from the gods, as harbingers of war, and to communicate with the spirits of their lost loved ones. Cave paintings in France thought to date back 30,000 years have illustrations of the natural phenomenon, and philosophers, authors, and astronomers, including Aristotle, Descartes, Goethe, and Halley, have made mention of the Lights in their work, but what are the Northern Lights, really?
A SOLAR PHENOMENON
Known as a dramatic, entrancing display of dancing lights, this dazzling phenomenon can be observed in both the northern and southern hemispheres, known collectively as the Aurora Polaris. In the northern hemisphere, they are known as the Aurora Borealis, or the Northern Lights. In the southern hemisphere, they are known as the Aurora Australis, or the Southern Lights. While most ancient beliefs surrounding the phenomenon purported that it had something to do with the Gods, the Romans, who associated the Lights with Aurora, the goddess of dawn, believing them to be a sign of a new day, were probably closest to the truth.
As it rotates on its axis, the sun’s many magnetic fields distort and twist, and sometimes entangle. When these fields become knotted together, they burst and create what is known as sunspots. Usually, these sunspots occur in pairs; the largest sometimes being several times the size of Earth’s diameter.
At the centre of the sun, the temperature is 27 million degrees Fahrenheit (15 million degrees Celsius), As the surface temperature rises and falls, the sun boils and bubbles, causing solar winds. It takes these winds around 40 hours to reach Earth. When they do, they sometimes cause the dramatic displays known as the Aurora Polaris.
Auroras occur not only on Earth, but also on other worlds in our solar system, including Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, owing to their thick atmospheres and strong magnetic fields. Though these auroras are a little different from Earth’s, given they are formed under different conditions, we’d hazard to say they are probably just as stunning, if unobservable.
AURORA SPOTTING: TIPS AND TRICKS
The best time to see the Northern Lights is on cold, dark nights with clear skies. Some regions of the world have sightings year-round, but the odds are in your favour during the wintertime when the nights are longer, colder, and clearer. Planning a trip to witness the heavenly lights themselves? Here’s some things to keep in mind:
- Escape the lights of the city: Light pollution can minimise the visibility of stars and aurora. Where possible, leave cities and seek out dark skies.
- Timing is everything: Aurora are more common in winter due to the extended hours of darkness. Check daily weather updates to ensure the clearest skies possible. The best times to catch the phenomenon is between September and April.
- Aurora Photography: While an alluring idea, photographing auroras can be tricky. Do your research well ahead of time and prepare your cameras!
AURORA SPOTTING: The Best Places to Catch a Glimpse
Do the Northern Lights feature on your bucket list, too? If so, you are likely to catch a glimpse of them in the “aurora zone” of the Northern Hemisphere. This is an area of 2,000-3,000km from the magnetic pole, at a latitude of 66 to 69 degrees north. The closer you are to this region, the better your odds of catching the lights.
Let’s take a look at some of the best places to sight the Aurora Borealis!
Where: Ilulissat or Nuuk in Southern Greenland
When to visit: Mid-August to Late April
Approximate cost of travel from India: ₹140,000 – ₹180,000
Positioned perfectly within the aura zone, the quiet island country of Greenland makes up in beauty what it lacks in roads and public transport. Head over to Southern Greenland from Mid-August to late April for surreal views of the Aurora Borealis, and take a guided aurora tour in the snow either via snowmobile, snowshoe, or dog sled! If you are the one for adventures, step away from creature comforts to hustle it out as a backpacker to take in the sights.
Where: Svalbard, Tromso, The Lofoten Islands, Alta, Andoya, and Lakselv, amongst others.
When to visit: October to March
Approximate cost of travel from India: ₹47,000 – 80,000
A hotspot for Aurora spotting, Norway is chock-full of opportunities to witness the Northern Lights. Head over to Norwegian shores from October to March, and camp out under the dancing lights, or rent out a cozy log cabin amongst the natural beauty of countless fjords and quaint villages. The country’s offical airlines Norwegian Air recently announced a flash sale and slashed prices from India. Book your tickets fast, before the prices get hiked again!
3. ALASKA, USA
Where: Alaska is full of aurora-spotting hotspots, but Fairbanks is probably your best bet.
When to visit: Year-round
Approximate cost of travel from India: ₹118,000 – ₹160,000
One of the best places on earth for spotting aurora due to the cold weather, clear skies, and dark nights, which make for optimal aurora spotting conditions. While winter is still the best time to visit, Alaska is prime for aura-spotting all year-round. Catch stunning views of the Northern Lights while kicking back in a hot spring, or witness the magic of the lights while spotting grizzly bears and moose in the wild!
4. NORTHERN CANADA
Where: The Yukon and Northwest Territories
When to visit: August to April
Approximate cost of travel from India: ₹96,000 – 120,000
Many parts of Northern Canada witness the Aurora Borealis regularly, with the Northernmost territories being the best locations. Head over to the remote wilderness of North Canada between August and April to camp out under the Northern Lights, or rent out a campervan and chart your own path through the wilderness!
Where: Most northern regions of Russia are ideal for spotting Auroras, including Murmansk, Arkhangelsk and Petrozavodsk
When to visit: September to March
Approximate cost of travel from India: ₹45,000 – ₹70,000
With a large part of Russia lying within the Arctic Circle, this massive continent is a veritable gold mine for aurora spotting. While most visitors choose between September and March to visit, January and December are the optimal times to spot the Lights, due to the complete absence of sun for 6 weeks in some northern areas.
Where: While all of Iceland is prime for aurora spotting, some great options include Seltjarnarnes in Reykjavik, Vik, Eldborgahraun, and Djúpavík
When to visit: September to April
Approximate Cost of travel from India: ₹ 83,000 – ₹ 100,000
Volcanic landscapes, natural hot springs, and majestic waterfalls abound in this land of untouched wonder. Spot looming auroras from the privacy of our very own campervan, or while unwinding in a geothermal hot spring. For those of you looking for a luxury-forward Aurora experience, check into Iceland’s famous Ice Hotel for a stay unlike any other. The luxurious Ice Hotel is a stopover for the best of reasons – the entire hotel is chiselled out of ice during the winters, and the in-house staff can take you on a private guided tour for an experience like none other.
Where: Just about anywhere that is removed from the light of the city.
When to visit: September to March
Approximate Cost of travel from India: ₹ 50,000 – 80,000
The Northern parts of Finland witness frequent sightings of the auroras, with the lights being visible in the sky every other night from September to March. But be warned – temperatures can get quite cold. Spend a few nights under the stars and the majestic light show of the auroras in the glass igloos at Kakslauttanen! These special ice igloos offer the coziest sleep under a blanket of stars and the Northern Lights. Sigh!
Where: Abisko, Tärendö, Jukkasjärvi, and Farnebofjarden National Park
When to visit: September to March
Approximate Cost of travel from India: ₹ 37,000 – ₹ 70,000
One of the most popular destinations for aurora spotting thanks to the effects of the Gulf Stream, the temperatures here are milder compared to other popular aurora regions like Canada and Russia. Check out Swedens own Ice Hotel for the luxury Aurora spotting experience of a lifetime!
Would you take a trip to visit the Northern Lights? Let us know!
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