Dark clouds part in the sky, treating you to bright, surreal flashes of colour beyond. Hues of green and purple slowly swirl and twist into each other, spreading across the heavens to ultimately create the greatest light show on earth. With the sky clear, you are free to absorb their complex luminosity, enhanced further by the jet black silhouettes of pine trees and wooden cabins on the ground. Light reflects on the snow and ice crystals at your feet, ensuring that every direction you face, you see arguably nature’s greatest phenomenon, the Northern Lights.
This celestial wonder is often sped up in the videos you see, but as you watch them with your own eyes, unhurried and gradual, you'll be able to absorb each and every second of their movements in real time.
The Inuit population of Alaska thought the lights were the spirits of the animals they hunted and the Menominee Indians believed they showed the location of manabai’wok, the spirits of great hunters and fishermen. A more scientific explanation is available of course.
Where and when
The Northern Lights are so called because they can be seen in the north; areas within or around the Arctic circle are the best places to see them. Although they can be spotted in Alaska, Finland, Greenland, Svalbard and more, we always recommend Churchill in Canada for optimum northern lights viewing. Churchill is in a prime location for seeing the lights and has over 300 days of activity per year; although this doesn't mean that you can see the lights every time as they are often obscured by clouds or light, or are very faint.
During the summer, the sun barely dips below the horizon in the far reaches of the north so any northern lights activity would be obscured by sunlight. The winter is the best time to see them, namely January to March. We recommend March, October or November so you can combine your safari with watching for polar bears.
These bright dancing lights are, in very basic terms, the result of collisions between charged particles from the suns atmosphere and gaseous particles in the earths atmosphere. The colour of the lights depends on the type of particles colliding and their altitude. The most common colour is a yellowish green, but electric pinks and purples are seen by the lucky few, as well as striking blues.
As well as the northern lights, actually named the aurora borealis, there are the southern lights (aurora australis), which can be seen in the south. They occur at the same time in similar shapes and colours, although in the south they tend to be less impressive and harder to reach.
The northern and southern lights are located in irregular ovals over the magnetic poles. The northern lights and have been seen in areas as far south as the UK and New Orleans in America. The long periods of dark in the very north over the winter, combined with clear skies, make it an ideal season to see them. If we’re talking time on a clock, midnight on a clear night is perfect.
How can I see the northern lights In Canada?
We offer safaris to Churchill to see the northern lights and the polar bear migration at the same time. These specialist led departures depart via chartered flight from Churchill into the famous Polar Bear Alley where you will stay at a cosy lodge and enjoy trekking and hopefully spotting the northern lights and enjoying polar bear encounters.
Best time to go
March, October and November