Discover the dancing lights of the aurora borealis
What is the aurora borealis exactly? Sun spots and solar flares are the source. Solar flares ionize particles in the upper atmosphere, and charged particles are then drawn through space to the magnetic north (and south) poles. When the particles hit the earth’s atmosphere, ribbons of purple, blue, red and green weave together, transforming the sky into a masterpiece of color. It’s not hard to image why some Alaska Native groups believed the lights had powers, and could be the dancing spirits of their people — the aurora is an awe-inspiring event for any observer.
Because of its proximity to the North Pole and the overhead 'Auroral Oval' prone to intense aurora activity, the Interior community of Fairbanks is considered to be one of the best places on earth to view the northern lights. Several tour companies offer visitors the chance to see the aurora in a variety of ways. Journey to a remote cabin away from city lights, and relax until peak viewing hours around midnight. Looking for a more adventurous approach? Take an exciting nighttime sled dog ride to the high country with guides on hand to point out the aurora and educate guests about dog mushing. Aurora tours are available from nearby Chena Hot Springs, and can be accompanied by a relaxing soak in the springs to boot. Special aurora wake-up calls can be arranged at many hotels in the area, so guests needn’t worry about missing the show if they appear in the late hours of the night or early hours of the morning.
A more remote experience awaits visitors in the Far North region of Alaska, another prime location to view the aurora. Located directly under the Auroral Oval, communities like Coldfoot, Barrow and other locations in and around the Arctic Circle boast fantastic aurora viewing during winter months. Tours operate by land and air, and guests can explore the expansive Brooks Mountain Range and Alaska Native communities in the area. All excursions focus on creating an experience that results in an appreciation for the aurora and deeper understanding of the cultural heritage of Alaska’s Arctic.
Before you plan your aurora-viewing trip of a lifetime, check the aurora forecast tool available through the University of Alaska Geophysical Institute website. Go through the number of steps designed to help predict aurora conditions on a daily - even hourly - basis. For planning far in advance, use the long-term functions or simply explore the site to learn more about how best to view the aurora on your Alaska vacation.
For more information on viewing northern lights, click here.