As a naturally occurring marvel, the appearance of the Northern Lights is very difficult to predict any further in advance than around two hours before it occurs. So much is reliant on the solar activity that we can’t predict when they will occur nor how frequently. The best we can do is to provide a rough guide on the best time to see the Northern Lights based on certain timescales.
The Solar Cycle – Solar Minimum/ Solar Maximum
Our Sun goes through a motion cycle that lasts about 11 years. It passes through Solar Maximum (with highest solar activity) and Solar Minimum (with lowest solar activity). The Northern Lights are more predominant during Solar Maximum the last of which happened in June 2014. Also, the Aurora Borealis will remain extremely active for two to three years either side of Solar Maximum which effectually means that the current maximum has just passed its half way stage.
Best Time Of The Year
As far as we know there is no definitive research to see the northern lights in any particular time of year. Auroras occur throughout the year, but the light summer months reduce the visibility, so we have to focus on the rest of the year. All we can do then is depend on our years of experience chasing the Aurora. Here are our thoughts to see the northern lights month-wise.
Jan – March
These are perhaps the three most prevalent months for Aurora chasing because they bring long dark nights. It is also believed that the Aurora is more likely to appear on colder nights. Also, February sees the climate slowly improving and in March, the temperatures begin to increase although it can still get pretty chilly especially at night. There is some conjecture that the spring and autumn Equinoxes bring greater solar activity.
April – August
To see the Northern Lights, you need dark skies. And from early-April till late-August, the Aurora may be raging but it is observable only to scientific equipment, as the skies are just too light for the human eye. Also, there is so much to see and do in Northern Scandinavia that 24 hours of daylight is actually welcome. From the fjords of Norway to the highlands of Sweden, these landscapes are better than when they are bathed in the 24-hour daylight of the summer months.
September – October
September and October are usually the only two months when the Northern Lights are seen at the same time as the lakes and rivers continue to be ice-free. The exquisiteness of this is that you will often see the Northern Lights above and reflected in open water at the same time. It can be a truly remarkable sight.
November – December
November is a time of change in the Arctic and the onset of the first major snow in winter. It’s amazing to watch the scenery change so rapidly, it’s as if autumn turns into winter almost overnight. The snow brings a bit of cloud cover, but the shorter days also bring darker skies which increases the amount of time during which the Aurora might be seen.
The Best Time of Day
Firstly, to see the Northern Lights, the skies need to be dark which directly rules out daylight hours. Certainly, despite the sun not coming over the horizon, even the shortest day, 21 December, brings 3-4 hours of grey/blue light which makes the Northern Lights invisible to the naked eye. Once darkness falls, the Aurora can be visible at any time of day.
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