According to NASA, the current solar cycle is due to peak at the end of 2013 – meaning that the current winter season (and into the winter of 2014-15) is the best time to see the Northern Lights in over ten years. These unearthly light displays are some of the most awe-inspiring sights known to mankind, so this is the perfect time to seize the moment and head north.
Simply put, the further north and the further away from any source of light, the greater the chances of seeing the incredible Northern Lights – just remember that it’s a highly unpredictable game and sightings are never guaranteed. The best places in Europe include the far north of Scandinavia and Iceland, but if you’re willing to travel Canada and Alaska are also Aurora hotspots.
Due to the surge in solar flares it may be possible to spot the Northern Lights in the Scottish Highlands and even northern England, which is ideal if you’d prefer to stay on home ground – although obviously this is at the cost of there being less chance of seeing the Aurora.
In the Arctic the skies are darkest from November to March, which is when the Northern Lights can be seen (usually in between 5pm and 2am, for just a few minutes at a time).
A clear night is necessary for watching the Northern Lights – no one can entirely predict the weather, so it’s a good idea to make your trip at least a couple of nights long in order to increase the chances of a cloudless sky.
There are various tours on offer to help travellers make the most of their time and maximise their chances of seeing the Aurora. The best will incorporate other activities, such as snowshoe hikes, dog-sledding, and cross-country skiing, so that you’ll have plenty to do during the day and – in the eventuality that you don’t see the lights – it won’t have been a wasted trip.
A couple of reputable companies offering Northern Lights tours are The Aurora Zone (www.theaurorazone.com) and Hurtigruten (www.hurtigruten.co.uk). If you’re unsure about the time you should go, you can check in with the hotels or tour companies to see how frequent their sightings are by giving them a quick call.
Capturing the Moment
Once you’re there and the Northern Lights have shown themselves, you’ll no doubt want to capture the experience. The best way to take a picture is by using an SLR camera and a tripod. Use a wide lens and a long exposure of ten to 20 seconds – and hope for the best!
Ultimately nothing will compare to being there in person, so don’t get too wound up in your photography, and remember to enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime moment.