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How To See Northern Lights And The Aurora In Alaska
The Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis, is one of nature’s most spectacular shows. And, as luck would have it, one of the best places in the world to see this marvelous display of lights in Alaska. Each year, thousands of tourists flock to remote areas of the state to experience this otherworldly phenomenon. The two biggest questions visitors have, however, are where to go in Alaska for Northern Lights viewing and how to see the Aurora Borealis in Alaska. Keep reading and we will try to answer these questions for you!
Chasing The Northern Lights In Alaska’s Sky
The Northern Lights are a result of solar wind activity. As the sun cycles, it sends out flares that shoot charged particles into space. As the particles enter the Earth’s atmosphere, they collide with different gases. This results in a stunning display of colors that night up the dark, night sky – or, the Northern Lights.
The interaction of solar winds and atmospheric gases happens throughout the day and all year round, but the Aurora are only visible to the naked eye when the conditions are just right. Both the weather and solar activity have to sync, and there needs to be minimal light pollution in the viewing area. Your chances of seeing the Northern Lights increase dramatically if you are within the Auroral Oval, an atmospheric boundary that extends approximately 1,550 miles around the Earth’s magnetic poles.
The Best Time To See Alaska’s Northern Lights
If you want to know how to see the Aurora Borealis in Alaska, the first thing you will need to do is head to the Last Frontier during Aurora Season! Alaska’s Aurora Season runs between August and April each year when the waning daylight hours lead to darker night skies. Here are a few things to remember as you plan your Northern Lights Aurora in Alaska tour:
- The peak window within the aurora season for Northern Lights viewing falls deep in the heart of winter, during the months from January to March. This is because during that time there are more nighttime hours than daylight hours and viewing conditions are generally ideal.
- The aurora borealis is unpredictable and cannot be guaranteed, even if you visit the darkest locale on the darkest day, during the height of Aurora Season. Patience is key if you are chasing the Northern Lights in the night sky.
- Many factors come into play during an Aurora sighting. These include cloud cover, the moon phase, and the amount of solar activity. To guarantee a successful sighting, check the Aurora Forecast at the University of Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute. The Aurora Tracker correlates three individual streams of data in order to predict northern lights viewing opportunities for six locations in the Fairbanks region.
The Best Places To See The Northern Lights In Alaska
If you want to learn where to go in Alaska for Northern Lights viewing, keep reading! Although the Northern Lights can appear anywhere in Alaska, some areas will see the Aurora light up the night sky more frequently than others. If you’re serious about a successful sighting, plan a trip to an area that sits under the Auroral Oval. Here are a few suggestions to help you get started with your plans.
- Fairbanks – located in Alaska’s interior, Fairbanks is easily accessible by an international airport and is directly under the Auroral Oval. The Fairbanks tourism board estimates that if you spend at least 3 nights in the city during Aurora Season, you have a 90 percent chance of seeing the Northern Lights! Some of the most popular places in and around Fairbanks for Aurora Sightings include Murphy Dome, Haystack Mountain, the Chena Lakes Recreation Area, and Wickershame Dome. It’s also a great place to sign up for a guided tour and explore the Northern Lights from a dog sled, on skis, from a fishing hole, or during a winter camping adventure!
- Coldfoot – if you travel even further north, you’ll come to this historic gold-mining settlement that is now a rest stop on the Dalton Highway. Coldfoot isn’t much on amenities – the so-called city has an airstrip, post office, trooper outpost, gas station, and diner – but it’s a perfect spot to see the Northern Lights. Visitors can make the long drive to Coldfoot themselves or hop a bush plane from Fairbanks to check in at Coldfoot Camp. From there, you can wait for the ribbons of light to dance across the night sky.
- Talkeetna – this quirky town is located halfway between Anchorage and Denali State Park, and is the inspiration behind the 90s TV show “Northern Exposure.” Book a room at the Talkeetna Roadhouse and sign up for a photography expedition with a local tour guide so that you can capture a souvenir of your experience in the Far North.
- Utqiagvik – this city, formerly known as Barrow, is the northernmost city in North America. It sits at 71° north latitude and doesn’t see sunlight for 67 days each winter. But its location in the far north makes it a prime viewing spot for the Aurora Borealis. It is also a good place to explore Inuit culture and stand on the beach near the Arctic Ocean.
- Nome – located on the western coast of Alaska, this town is the finish line for the famous Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. It is also a good spot to see the Northern Lights. The town has three hotels and is a great place to try your hand at dogsledding or visit the Iditarod kennels to learn more about the sled dog teams that participate in this uniquely Alaskan sport.
If you want to see the Northern Lights and Aurora in Alaska, just remember to plan your trip to coincide with Aurora Season! Also, keep in mind that the display of Northern Lights will intensify around the equinox months of September and March because the Earth’s tilt in relation to the sun means that its magnetic field is in sync with the solar winds. This means that your chance of seeing the Northern Lights is high – especially in the Far North and under the Auroral Oval. Happy Aurora hunting!