Northern Lights – the Aurora Borealis

Definition: Northern Lights is known as Aurora Borealis. Aurora or auroras, aurorae (plural), in some cases described as northern light (aurorae borealis), polar lights or southern lights (aurora australis), is a natural light screen in the sky of the Earth, mostly seen in the northern regions around the Polar circle and Antarctica.

Update May 2020: Based on the statistical data and northern lights forecast solar activity, we think that it might be a very good time to see northern lights in 2020

Update August 2020:  This year might be the perfect chance to spot the aurora lights in 2020/2021 season. To be sure that you have the highest chances of spotting this show on the sky, we’ve put together a list of the top destinations and everything you need to know about this phenomenon. 

Northern Lights in Iceland
Northern Light in Iceland

1 What is North Lights

The earliest mention of aurora borealis was in 1616, when Galileo Galilei used the term “aurora borealis” to describe the green lights in the sky, naming them after Aurora – mythical goddess of the dawn and Boreas – the greek name for the north wind.

2 Etymology of the word Northern Lights

Northern Light is generally known as Aurora Borealis. Aurora Borealis is composed of two words Aurora and Borealis.

The word “aurora” is the name from the Roman goddess of the dawn, who was travelling from eastern to west introducing the coming of the sunlight. The word “Borealis” comes from Boreas which in Greek means north wind.

Boreas was the purple-winged god of the north wind, one of the four seasonal Anemoi (Wind-Gods). He was likewise the god of winter season that swept below the cold mountains of Thrake (Thrace), chilling the air with his icy breath.

Past his hill home lay Hyperborea, a mythological land of eternal spring unblemished by the god’s winds. In ancient greek poets used the “aurora name” metaphorically to refer to dawn. They often mentioned the play of colours across the dark black sky.

3 What are the Northern Lights

A phenomenon wrapped in mystery with many unknown elements, Northern Light or Aurora Borealis is a unique appearance on Earth sky in certain regions close to the North Pole.

Auroras are the outcome of disruptions in the magnetosphere triggered by the solar wind. These disturbances are sometimes solid enough to modify the trajectories of charged fragments in both solar winds as well as magnetospheric plasma.

These bits, generally electrons and also protons, speed up right into the upper atmosphere (thermosphere/exosphere).

4 What causes the northern lights

The resulting ionization and excitation of climatic components emit light of different colour as well as complexity.

The kind of the aurora, taking place within bands around both polar areas, is additionally depending on the quantity of velocity conveyed to the precipitating bits.

Speeding up protons normally produce optical emissions as case hydrogen atoms after obtaining electrons from the atmosphere. Proton auroras are normally observed at reduced latitudes.

5 Forms and Shapes of Aurora Borealis

According to Clark (2007), there are 4 main kinds of Northern Lights that can you can see from the ground level, from least visible to very intense ones:

  • A mild glow, near the horizon. This green glowy thin smoke can be close to the limit of visibility but can be distinguished from moonlit clouds because stars can be seen undiminished through the glow.
  • Patches or surfaces that look similar to clouds.
  • Arcs that curve over the sky.
  • Rays are light and dark stripes across arcs, going upwards at different heights.
  • Coronas cover most of the sky and stretch from one point on it.

6 Images of the Northern Lights photography tips

Because the green lights can only be seen at night, in total darkness, all photographies taken are with a long exposure, which means it is not easy at all to get a perfect shot.

Due to changes over time and different colour spectre, the photographic result is more or less unpredictable. Longer exposures superimpose and therefore the sharpness of the light dancing on the sky is hard to catch.

Shorter exposure and higher sensitivity will most of the times result in noisy grainy photos that nobody wants.

7 Countries where Northern Light are visible

If you wish to see the Aurora Borealis, then you have to know that it is only visible in certain countries during certain periods.

7.1 Northern light in Iceland

Iceland is one of the places where Aurora Borealis could be seen but seeing it is not so easy!

That is why I prepared for you the Northern Light Iceland Ultimate guide so you increase your chances of seeing it if you visit Iceland!

Consider the best time to see the northern lights in Iceland if you ever plan to go to Iceland to see Aurora Borealis.


The Aurora Borealis Northern Lights in Iceland
Aurora Borealis North Lights in Iceland



Norway is world famous for its beautiful places where to spot Aurora Borealis. Tromso, Alta and Lofoten Island are the most popular places to visit for Northern Light.

In the last few years, places like Senja become more popular among tourists whose main purpose is to see the Green Lady dancing in the sky!

7.3 Northern lights in Finland

Northern Lapland is one of the best places to see this unique natural phenomena. Rovaniemi, Saariselka or Kakslauttanen are very popular destinations for Northern Light hunters.

While Rovaniemi has a pretty high light pollution and you need to drive a while to get read of the lights and see the Aurora Borealis, Saariselka and Kakslauttanen are more suitable to spot this magnificent show!

7.4 Northern lights Sweden

As north as we go in Sweden the chances of spotting Northern Light increase. Abisko National Park, Kiruna and Jokkmokk are the most famous destinations from Sweden to see Aurora Borealis.

All these three places have a very low light pollution and are easy to reach. There are organised tours or you can go on your own to see the lights. The sky spectacle is unique and makes you reconsider your position in Universe.

7.5 Northern lights in Canada

While this can sound really surprising, many people don’t know that you can actually see the north lights in Canada.

It could be really frustrating to dream about seeing the Aurora Borealis all your life, then visit Canada during winter and miss out on this amazing experience just because you were not aware that you could see it while you were there.

Canada is a country well pinned on Aurora Borealis map, but not many people know about this beautiful destination where you can see the north lights.

7.6 Northern lights Alaska

While many travellers go to Europe to see the Northern Light, you can actually see them closer to you, without leaving the United States.

The northern part of Alaska is where Americans have the highest chance of seeing the Aurora Borealis in the United States in Alaska.

7.7 Northern light in Greenland

Greenland is ranked as one of the best places on Earth to spot North Lights due to its location and low light pollution.

Places like Kangerlussuaq or Sisimiut or Ilulissat are on top as one of the most popular places where you can enjoy this unique spectacle.

8 Countries where Southern Lights are visible

Sothern lights are not as popular as the one at the arctic, but they are still very beautiful and worth seeing.

If you plan to travel to Australia or if you visit New Zealand, there is a chance you might see the Southern Lights. They simply are the same phenomenon that takes place on the other side of the earth.

Because there is less land surface in the southern hemisphere, the green light of the south are mostly visible from water, and this is why they

8.1 Southern lights in Australia

A good place to spot southern lights in Australia is the state of Tasmania.

Places like Victoria or Cape Schanck are also famous for its wonderful lights. All the places are easy to reach by car and have a low light pollution level.

8.2 Southern lights in New Zealand

Stewart Island, The Catlins, Lake Tekapo or Invercargill are just some of the most popular places from New Zealand to spot the Aurora Australis.

Hid away from the big cities, and far from any light pollution, these places are ideal for seeing the sky show. All you need is a little bit of luck and perfect conditions!

9 What Colors are Northern Lights and wavelengths of Aurora Borealis

Most often the colours associated with aurora borealis are green, pink, violet, yellow, blue and rarely orange or white.

The colours form when the electronically charged particles collide with particles in the atmosphere.

Yellow is formed when they collide with oxygen, collision with nitrogen produces violet, red, pink and rarely blue colours.

The collision type is the decisive factor of the colour that appears in the sky: collision with molecular nitrogen results in a purple colour, while collision with atomic hydrogen causes blue aurora.

Colours are influenced by altitude. Green lights generally appear up to 240 km high (152 miles), red appears above 240 km (above 152 miles), while blue will only appear at up to 97 km (61 miles) and purple at above 97 km (above 61 miles).

Aurora Borealis will display as static bands of light, curtains or arcs when solar flares are strong, dancing in the sky as a constantly changing curtain of lights.

10 How to see Northern Lights

Seeing the green lights dancing on the darkness is one of the most beautiful things you could ever see!

North Lights are one of the most beautiful and unique natural phenomena in the world. There should be meet three main conditions to spot Aurora Borealis:

    • Intense solar activity
  • Clear sky
  • Completely dark outside
The Aurora Borealis could not be seen anytime on the dark sky.

Some of you travel in higher latitude countries to see the beauty of the country and enjoy each moment of their holiday, while others are interested in seeing Aurora Borealis.

Because it is such a rare and unique phenomenon you need to know when to go.

If you plan to see Aurora Borealis, you should know that the best time to see Northern Lights is during late autumn and during wintertime considering the solar activity forecast.

Seeing it is an unforgettable experience for anyone!

11 When can you see the Northern Light

Aurora Borealis usually move around in an elipse around the Earth’s Magnetic Pole, that has a different location than the North Geographical Pole, being a little offset and closer to North of Canada.

Northern light can be a common thing and with a frequent occurrence for the people living in far northern latitudes.

People living in more temperate climates or even at the Equator never see them as they can only be seen as far south as 35 degrees north latitude.

We hope that all the information in this article will help you plan your trip so you can see the Northern Lights if you visit one of the Northern Countries.

To see the North Lights you definitely need darkness and good weather conditions, which translates into a clear dark night sky.

They are visible from late August to early April, and can appear anytime during the night. In some places like Tromso (Tromsø) or Abisko, night can last as long as 24 hours in winter, so you have more chances to see Aurora Borealis in places like this.

However, there is no guarantee that you will see Northern Light during your trip, even if you are in the best area and have the best weather and the perfect clear dark sky with no clouds on it.

That is simply because Aurora Borealis does not show up everywhere and does not last forever. It is an ephemeral phenomenon that appears in some areas at some moments in the night.

You will radically increase your chances to see Aurora Borealis if you plan to go during late September and late March.

Statistically, these are the two best months when you can see the Aurora Borealis, simply because they are the months when the Equinox happens.

If you cannot go in September or March, consider winter months, as they have long dark periods, as the nights are longer, and also go to a remote place with as little light pollution as possible and your chances are greatly increased for seeing the North Lights.

12 When is the best time of year to see Northern Light

In my opinion, the best time to see Northern Lights is from September to December.

A golden rule when chasing the Aurora Borealis is to search for remote places, somewhere outside the city where there is little to no light pollution so you can have total darkness.

Then all you can do is hope that you are in the right place at the right time and that Aurora Borealis will show up. Important to know is that this is applicable even during the best time of year to see Northern Light.

12.1 Northern Light in summer

An interesting fact which you should know when you chase the Northern Lights is that the solar explosions also happen during summertime.

But unfortunately, because there is no complete dark sky, it is impossible to see the Green Lady dancing in the sky.

So keep in mind that Aurora Borealis takes place not only in winter but also in summer.

12.2 North Lights in winter

Winter is the best time to go and see the Aurora Borealis. Though it is the coldest season, in the northern hemisphere it is also the period with the longest nights.

This means plenty of chances to see the Northern lights dancing in the dark sky.

One of the best winter months to see north lights is December, but you can also see it during February and March.

Important to know that you need higher solar activity in order for the green lights to show up, and you get this during equinoxes, in autumn and in spring.

The closer you are to an equinox the higher your chances of seeing the green lady.

13 Don’t go for the Northern Lights, go and enjoy the Destination

Don’t go for the Northern Light, go and enjoy the Destination

My advice is to never plan your trip for the Aurora Borealis, plan for the destination instead.

If the event occurs you will be more satisfied than if you plan to see the North Lights and you get back home without seeing the green lights.

We always plan our trips for seeing the destination country and the beautiful landscape, magnificent scenery and understand the local culture.

If during our trip we have a chance to see these rarely and hard to see events like the Northern Lights, we’re nothing but very grateful that we were so lucky.

We recommend you do to the same and your travels will be more enjoyable and with fewer deceptions.


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