The aurora borealis is Mother Nature’s greatest light show – a firework-like display lighting winter skies at some of the planet’s darkest latitudes. Named after the Roman goddess of dawn (Aurora) and the northerly wind (borealis), it occurs when charged particles from the sun are magnetically deflected to the Earth’s polar regions, releasing light as they collide with the atmosphere. Most displays are green, but some include reds, blues, pinks and violets.
WHERE CAN I SEE THE LIGHTS?
The lights are most dependably seen at latitudes north of 60° N, on clear, cloudless nights between September and April. They’re sometimes visible as far south as Scotland, but are most usually sighted in northern Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland, Russia, Alaska and Canada. Though you might see the aurora anywhere within the Arctic Circle, Abisko in Sweden, Tromsø in Norway and Nellim in Finland are popular spots to track them.
WHAT ARE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS?
The Roman philosopher Lucius Seneca believed the green bands to be giant holes in the sky.
Viking sailors reputedly held that the lights were the Valkyries (Odin’s fair maidens) galloping across the heavens.
Inuits imagined the lights represented the spirits of their family and friends dancing in the next life.
Fishermen in northern Sweden once deemed the phenomena a good omen, and a sign of rich catches.
Seeing the aurora is never guaranteed, but head away from urban areas and light pollution, pick a clear, starry night and find a good vantage point, such as a hilltop or lakeside. Also, check if your hotel has a wake-up service, to alert you if the lights appear.