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In Search of the Northern Lights (nytimes.com)
47 points by pseudolus 7 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 23 comments

Northern Lights are a bit like the weather, in that you can predict them to a degree but not precisely (just Google "aurora forecast"). They also ebb and flow in strength over 12 year cycles. My wife and I went to Iceland in March a few years back and saw some amazing auroras. They are awesome to see, especially the big and powerful ones. They shift and move around the sky like visible magnetic fields, just arcing wildly, fading and forming into view with those weird CGA monitor colors.

Iceland in March was one of those amazing trips where you we drove to amazing and famous waterfalls and geysers and were always the only people there. We did the whole Ring Road around the island and the northern part of the country was so desolate we ate most of our meals at gas stations because there was literally nothing else open. Along the eastern coast we drove an entire day and saw only one car coming the other direction.

Looked up “aurora forecast”. Clicked first result, “drupal is ready to be set up”. Haha

When I'm not on the road I live in Whitehorse, Yukon.

Some years I see them every single night walking home from work, often strong enough to make me actually stop and gape. Many times I have had to pull over while driving to watch the spectacle.

They're different each and every time they come out, and simply breathtaking.

Come up to the Yukon or Alaska in late September through into October. There won't quite be snow on the ground yet, and if you stay a few weeks I'll virtually guarantee you'll see them a good deal


There were taken about 10 minutes from town:


My then girlfriend and I went to Iceland in 2014. I proposed there, she said yes and then within a minute a huge amazing aurora lit up the sky including deep red colours and crazy waves. It was a memorable experience :)

I live in Norrbotten, the county where the reporter went. While I love the place, the climate and the people, I just don't see why so many people pay so much to just come and see the auroras, while missing out of so much actual nature in the area.

Maybe I'm just acclimatized.

I've lived at 64 degrees north Sweden all my life, yes you get acclimatized. I have recently rediscovered them thanks to relatives from south europe visiting and reminding me of what goes on up in the sky during the nights. Started going out when the aurora reports says it's a chance and keep seeing them pretty regularly. Every time I do, I meet some french or japanese or other nationality students with cameras out in the edges of town. Mostly students having relatives visiting from homecountry, wanting to see it.

I'm from Stockholm, so it's not part of what I see if I go outside on a random day. But I've seen it enough (edit: never in Stockholm), it does NOTHING with me. Meh!

Maybe it's me just knowing that "we" have it that makes me not care. I don't know.

The Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska - Fairbanks offers an ongoing Aurora Forecast [0]. The site also includes a handy faq (scroll to the bottom).

[0] https://www.gi.alaska.edu/monitors/aurora-forecast

In 1999, I had an unlimited use email pager and one of the things I subscribed to was an aurora alert system you can read about here http://www.keteu.org/~mark/aurora/ ... I was in North central Ohio at the time, got a page, and went outside and saw the aurora. Not nearly as vivid as in photos... A green splotch that slowly developed an orange glow and then disappeared over the course of an hour. I feel very lucky to have seen it at such low latitudes and in a somewhat light polluted area. Googling has turned up some other similar and modern projects, and as the sun cycle starts up again, hopefully more people get a chance to catch it sometime.

I didn't think auroras were frequent or predictable enough to support tourism.

It's been 20 years since I've seen one here in Minnesota, although I don't go looking very frequently. I've seen some good ones though.

> I didn't think auroras were frequent or predictable enough to support tourism.

> It's been 20 years since I've seen one here in Minnesota (...)

Note that there's a big difference between the "hot" area close to the poles, and further south. For example Tromsø sits at 69 degrees northern latitude, Minnesota around 49.

Going for a weekend trip - you'd have to be lucky, going for a couple of weeks, you'd be virtually guaranteed.

Only downside is that you can't see the aurora in spring-summer due to the polar day/midnight sun (just like you can't see the stars during the day).

Surprisingly little mention of Tromsø, Norway in the article - there's been a building winter tourism trade here since the 80s,and it still seems to be growing.

Unfortunately there's quite a bit of light pollution from the city - but it's not far to drive to more rural areas with better viewing.

49? That's the same as Normandy, France.

I've lived for 10+ years at 59 degrees (Stockholm, Sweden) and never seen one clearly, even though I'm a night owl and watch the aurora reports, and none of the people I knew had ever seen one in that area. Where I am now at 50 degrees noone would even consider looking for them, it's so far south.

The magnetic pole was over Canada until relatively recently though (20 years ago it was) so that makes it much closer to Minnesota than to Normandy. It's getting closer these days though, moving towards Russia.

I also witnessed austral auroras on Kerguelen island for example, which is 49° south, because the south magnetic pole is rather close to it, but people on the Antarctic continent itself near the peninsula could not see any because although further south geographically, they were at a greater distance to the magnetic pole.

I saw them from my house just north of Stockholm December 2016, twice. It can apparently be seen there, but it was much nicer in kiruna! :>

Yeah, I was more than a little surprised they'd seen them in Minnesota. But I see that might not have been as clear as I intended...

No, your comment was pretty clear. I was just surprised at the original comment when you pointed out that it was 49 degrees.

Even the northern tip of Minnesota is pretty far south - about the same latitude as Paris. I'm kind of surprised you ever see them there!

I saw them once in west central Iowa as a kid. It’s a rare enough thing I don’t even like to talk about it because people tend not to believe it, but it definitely can happen briefly on occasion.

65 deg north (Northern Sweden) is enough to see the aurora regularly. 60 deg North (Stockholm, Sweden) means you may see them very rarely. So there is a massive difference in those 5 degrees.

There is a large winter tourism market in the Yukon for aurora, Japanese tourists are particularly fond of them and are frequently up to try seeing them.

Tromso in northern Norway is another big pull for Japanese during the winter months.

And non-Japanese. I went, it was magic :)

Alaskan here. It's otherworldly when the sky is on fire above you.

My brother braved the cold and took this video: https://youtu.be/odNrFTib1Qg

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