It’s a mysterious phenomenon which has captivated generations of travellers.
In Norse mythology, the Northern Lights is the glow from the shields of the fearsome Valkyrie. The Romans believed them to be Aurora, the goddess of dawn.
Their allure continues into the 21st Century.
For many people, seeing the Northern Lights is a bucket-list ambition, something they’d love to do at least once in their lives.
What are they?
The appearance of the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, is a natural phenomenon which is the result of collisions between gas particles in the Earth’s atmosphere with charged particles released from the sun’s atmosphere. These particles are blown towards us by the solar wind. Variations in aurora colour are due to the type of gas particles that are colliding.
The most common auroral color, a pale yellowish-green, is produced by oxygen molecules which are located about 60 miles above the earth. Rare, all-red auroras are produced by high-altitude oxygen, sometimes at heights of up to 200 miles. Nitrogen produces a blue or purple-red aurora.
Where should you go?
You’ll need to be in the Arctic Circle to get the best chance of seeing them. They are best between a latitude of 65 degrees north and 70 degrees north.
The city of Tromso, Norway, is in the middle of the aurora zone.
The nearest cruise ports are at Breivika three miles north of the city and Prostneset in the city itself.
Many cruise ships stay overnight in Tromso, especially during the winter.
There are cruise lines such as Norwegian offering cruises between Seattle and Alaska and Canada, including trips to northern cities such as Juneau and stop-off such as Icy Strait Point in the Alaskan wilderness. This is on an island which is home to the highest density of brown bears in Alaska.
When should you go?
Between November and March in Norway, between late September and March in Alaska and Canada. Aurora activity is often high around the Spring Equinox in March. The Earth’s tilt in relation to the sun means that the magnetic field of the Earth and the solar wind are in synch then.
What should you pack to watch the Northern Lights?
Make sure you have the right clothing as you may have to wait outside in the cold. Thermal base layers including leggings or tights, woolen sweaters, a fleece-lined hat, scarf, thermal gloves, a winter Parka, boots and thermal socks.
And, of course, your camera!
Are you guaranteed to see them?
No. The weather can interfere with your plans even if you go at the best time and to the right place. However, the more time you spend in the Arctic Circle, the more chance you have.
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