The Northern Lights in Alaska
Many people who have never been to Alaska have never experienced a display as powerful as the northern lights. Aurora borealis is the scientific name for this phenomenon. You may not even exactly understand what they look like, what causes them to happen or when the best time of year to view them in Alaska is. The point of this article is to help shed some light on these questions and help better educate visitors to Alaska so that they may enjoy the amazing spectacle that is commonly know as the northern lights.
What causes the northern lights?
Without getting too scientific there are several factors that come into play when discussing what causes the northern lights. When the sun experiences large explosions or flares there are large quantities or solar particles thrown into space. These particles form plasma clouds that usually take between two to three days to reach our earth.
When the plasma clouds near the earth they are captured by the earth’s magnetic field and guided towards the earths two magnetic poles, the North Pole and the South Pole. As they travel closer to earth towards the two poles the plasma clouds are stopped by the earth’s atmosphere. The atmosphere helps protects us from these deadly particles. When the solar particles are stopped by the atmosphere this collision creates an energy between the atmospheric gas particles and the solar particles. The energy is released in the form of a photon or a light particle.
Millions of these light particles being released into our atmosphere at one time cause the northern lights. This helps explain why they appear to dance across the sky as they intensify or subside.
What do the northern lights look like in Alaska?
In Alaska the closer you get to the North Pole the better of display you can see. Above the Arctic Circle there are amazing displays. However, living in Anchorage I have still seen many impressive displays of green and red lights in the night sky.
The northern lights seem to shimmer and dance across the sky as they are displayed. The usual color is green but more intense displays will have red or purple in them. They almost appear as a ghostly cloud of light that rapidly moves, intensifies and subside during the display. Northern lights displays in Alaska can continue for several hours.
What is the best time of year to view the northern lights in Alaska?
The winter months, October through March, are the best time frame to view the northern lights in Alaska simply due to the fact you will have some darkness. In the summer months it can stay light for nearly 24 hours. You must have darkness to witness this phenomenon happening. However, you should expect cold weather during this time period and be sure to bring clothes accordingly if you plan to stand outside and watch the northern lights.
Viewing the northern lights is an experience everyone should have at least once in their life. This truly amazing sight is almost mystical and hard to believe the first time you see it. In my opinion there is no better place than Alaska to witness the northern lights.
About the Author: Ryan T. has compiled a comprehensive Alaska Travel Guide and Northern Lights Photo Gallery which he credits to his many years in Alaska . Learn everything you need to know and expect from your Alaska Travel before you begin your travel.