Alaska and eastern Siberia are believed to have the brightest auroras in the world. Visitors from all over the world come to Alaska to see them.
A band of green light arcs across the sky. It begins to slowly wave, then lengthens into a shimmering curtain. It fades and a new band appears, intensifying with hints of pink and blue.
Some Alaska Natives believed the lights were torches carried by ancestors to lead the recently deceased to the afterworld. Others said the lights were caused by spirits playing football with a walrus head.
Today, we know northern lights (aurora borealis) are caused by solar wind interacting with Earth's magnetic field. When gases in the sun explode in solar flares, electron and proton particles stream toward Earth. Earth's magnetic field pulls the particles toward the poles. (Southern lights (aurora australis) occur around the south pole the same way northern lights occur around the north pole.)
As solar wind particles brush against Earth's magnetic field, electrons in Earth's atmosphere become charged. These electrons strike gas particles in Earth's upper atmosphere creating an electrical discharge that we see as light.
The color of the aurora is determined by the type of particles involved and the intensity of the interaction. The most common color is greenish yellow, but we also see pink and blue and, occasionally, bright red.
Optimal viewing seasons are spring and fall, but northern lights can occur year-round. We don't see them in the summer because the midnight sun outshines them. As soon as the night begins to get dark again, around mid-August in Denali, it's possible to see the aurora. Northern lights appear over Fairbanks more than two hundred nights per year.
Our Alaska Northern Lights Vacation packages are designed to put you in the best position to see this beautiful phenomenon.
Planning Note: Northern Lights Tours start August 21.
Explore Denali National Park, Fairbanks, and the arctic in your quest to see northern lights.
Visit Fairbanks, Denali, and Coldfoot and watch for northern lights at night.