The Northern Lights is one of the most stunning sights of the natural world. Unfortunately, planning a trip to see it isn’t always easy. Not only do you have to make the trek up north to Alaska or Canada but once you get there, you still might not see them due to a lack of solar activity or inclement weather. It can be a confusing and stressful experience and most travelers do their best to ensure that all the conditions are right before they hop on a plane.
As a travel company that specializes in Northern Lights tours, we often get asked about different factors that can impact a viewing experience. When is the best time to travel? Where is the best place to stay? And can you still see the northern lights during a full moon? If you look up this last question online you’ll find a lot of conflicting answers, so we decided to try to clear things up. To do that, we’ll first need to explain what causes the Northern Lights.
What Are the Northern Lights?
It all starts with the sun. Massive storms on the sun eject charged particles called plasma out into space on what is called the “solar wind”. When this plasma comes into contact with the Earth, it is mostly blocked by the Earth’s magnetic field with two exceptions—the North and South Poles. At the poles, charged particles from the plasma are able to interact with the Earth’s atmosphere, causing a reaction that produces amazing colors in the sky. Different colors are produced by the different atmospheric gasses that interact with the particles. Oxygen gives off green and red light while Nitrogen gives off blue and purple light¹. It is similar to the reactions that happen inside a neon sign.
How Does the Light From the Full Moon Affect Northern Lights Viewing?
Since the Aurora is dependent on solar activity, a full moon has no effect on the intensity or color of the Northern Lights. The only potential issue that might arise is from light pollution. Now here’s where you’ll get conflicting answers from the experts. Traditional advice is that it’s best to avoid Aurora viewing during the full moon, however, others say that the full moon can actually enhance the viewing experience. It really all comes down to the strength of the Aurora. A weak display might be drowned out by the light of the moon if the moon is directly behind it. But chances are, you wouldn’t see very much of a weak Aurora either way. On the other hand, if solar activity is high, the full moon can actually make the view all the more extraordinary. It can light up the foreground and change the color of the sky from a black to a deep blue. It’s lovely to see on its own and even better to see next to the Northern Lights.
Should You Avoid the Full Moon When You Travel to See the Northern Lights?
The short answer is no. Don’t restrict your travel dates based on the moon cycles. The bigger concern is shifting weather patterns. Clouds are an Aurora viewer’s worst enemy. They are also harder to predict. Unfortunately, nothing is ever 100% certain when it comes to travel. That’s why when booking your next adventure, it’s important to choose a trusted travel company that has experience dealing with the unexpected. Gondwana Ecotours has been running its Northern Lights Adventure Tour since 2013 with a 95% success rate for seeing the Aurora. But don’t take our word for it, read what others have to say about our Northern Lights Adventure!!
¹“What is an Aurora?” NASA Science.