The people who live in the big cities of the world enjoy the bright lights and the wonderful firework displays for special celebrations, such as New Year's Eve or Halloween. However this artificial brilliance is nothing compared to the wonderful sight of the natural phenomenon known as the Northern Lights, or the Aurora borealis, in the Northern Hemisphere of the world. Mirror-image lights are visible in the Southern Hemisphere, where they are called Aurora Australis.
'Aurora' was the Roman Goddess of Dawn, 'Boreas' is Greek for 'wind' and 'Australis' is Latin for 'of the South'. The Northern and Southern Lights occur at the magnetic fields of the polar regions and are the result of charged particles of protons and electrons, from the magnetosphere around the Earth.
These particles collide with molecules and atoms from the Sun, then carried into the ionosphere on the solar winds. The ...More information below photos...
The Northern and Southern Lights develop in the Auroral Ovals which are centred approximately over the magnetic North and South Poles and are 500 to 1000 kilometres wide, and when seen from space they appear to be two rings of light. The Auroras materialize when there is a great deal of sunspot activity and also at the spring and autumnal equinoxes (around March 21, and September 22). There are different shapes and type of lights, the 'arcs' and 'bands' can be active or quiet or can suddenly become brighter horizontally, the 'corona' has lights leaping out in many directions, a 'patch' can pulse or even flash, and 'veils', 'curtains' and 'rays' are other forms which make fascinating auras. European and American explorers as well as the Inuit have said the lights run close to the ground, and have heard rustling and whistling sounds from the displays, although scientists are inclined to discredit this as the Auroras are 60 to 600 kilometres above the surface of the earth.
The Inuit people call the Aurora Borealis 'Aqsarniit', which translates to 'football players' because they believe the colourful flickering skies are the spirits of the dead playing football with a walrus skull as a ball. The Vikings think the lights are reflections of dead maidens. The Scottish call them 'Merry Dancers'. Others think they are swans flying too far North, or the dead trying to contact the living.
In the Northern Hemisphere the best places to view the Aurora Borealis are within the auroral oval, such as Alaska, Yellowknife and Goose Bay in Canada, Norway, Finland and Russia, these locations can view the lights on clear nights, from fall to spring. Sometimes, if the solar winds are strong, the ovals will spread further south and the lights are visible in the skies over most of Canada, Northern United States, Europe and Asia. One of the most fascinating places to view the northern lights in Canada is along the shores of Hudson Bay in Manitoba ... polar bear country! The prairie Provinces of Canada are also excellent for viewing the Northern Lights as there are wide open spaces and very few towns meaning plenty of darkness to enjoy the spectacular sight. The hours around midnight are the most rewarding to watch Nature's Fireworks.
The people of the Southern Hemisphere are not as fortunate as their Northern counterpart, because the Southern auroral oval is over Antarctica and it is not often that Australia, New Zealand, Southern Asia and Africa are able to enjoy the wonders of the Aurora Australis.
Most of our Northern Lights pictures are taken in Alaska and the Yukon.
The best times to see the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis is in fall and spring. On clear nights these dancing veils of light can be seen and, if active, they can provide some great photo opportunities.
There are many tour operators offering Northern Lights watching in Manitoba, Yukon and Alaska. Our photo workshops also offer the chance to get some great Northern Lights pictures with the help from an expert.
Check out our story Aurora Borealis