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Experience the marvel: The northern lights

09-21-2011 14:20 BJT

When to see the northern lights

Seeing the northern lights, or the aurora borealis, as they are also known, is a jaw-dropping and mystical moment.

The lights are at their most frequent in late autumn and winter/early spring.

Between the autumn equinox and spring equinox (21 September - 21 March), it is dark between 6 pm and 1 am, and you have maximum chances of spotting the lights. However, the weather is also of importance, and September, October and November tend to be wet and snowless in the north.

From December the weather dries up, and there is normally plenty of snow. If you come in December or January, you experience the polar nights with atmospheric evenings and very short days.

In February and March the days are longer and you see more of the snow-clad landscapes during daytime, and the evenings still offer maximum chances to spot the northern lights.

No guarantee can be given, though. Some weeks, you are treated to fantastic displays, repeated several times during the evening. Other times, the snow falls densely, or the northern lights simply stay away. Naturally, the longer you stay and the more time you set aside, the better the odds.

Where to see the northern lights

Northern Lights can be seen in the northern or southern hemisphere, in an irregularly shaped oval centred over each magnetic pole. The lights are known as 'Aurora borealis' in the north and 'Aurora australis' in the south. Scientists have learned that in most instances northern and southern auroras are mirror-like images that occur at the same time, with similar shapes and colors.

Because the phenomena occurs near the magnetic poles, northern lights have been seen as far south as New Orleans in the western hemisphere, while similar locations in the east never experience the mysterious lights. However the best places to watch the lights (in North America) are in the northwestern parts of Canada, particularly the Yukon, Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Alaska. Auroral displays can also be seen over the southern tip of Greenland and Iceland, the northern coast of Norway and over the coastal waters north of Siberia. Southern auroras are not often seen as they are concentrated in a ring around Antarctica and the southern Indian Ocean.

Areas that are not subject to 'light pollution' are the best places to watch for the lights. Areas in the north, in smaller communities, tend to be best.

Activities under the northern lights

Aurora is an unpredictable lady, and you never know when she will decide to turn up. This diva keeps you waiting, so whenever you go hunting for the northern lights above the Arctic Circle, make sure you set aside the whole evening. Northern lights worshippers do everything from cross-country skiing to building snowmen in order to keep warm and entertained while outside.

However, organised tours are a good alternative.

Experience the aurora at sea

Witness the northern lights as they fill the inky night sky from the comfort of one of Hurtigruten's ships.

Snowmobile safaris

Driving your own snowmobile is a feeling of freedom in itself, and when you do it under the northern lights, you will definitely have an experience to talk about. Several operators offer such tours in Northern Norway. One recommended alternative is a guided snowmobile tour from Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel. There is a similar option in Kirkenes.

Chasing the northern lights

If the northern lights do not come to you, you can go to the northern lights. Set off by car into the polar night on the lookout for clear skies.

Dog sledding

You can book dog sledding under the northern lights in the Pasvik Valley, on the Russian border in Finnmark.

Be patient

When dreaming about seeing the northern lights, you must remember that you are at the complete mercy of nature. The northern lights love to play hide and seek. Observing the aurora borealis is often a tug of war between your patience and the aurora itself. Stay in the northern lights area at least a week, preferably two, and you will be rewarded - unless local weather suddenly decides to obstruct your view with clouds.

Living legend

Perhaps not so surprisingly, the northern lights' spectacle has given rise to as many legends as there have been people watching. Symbols linked to the northern lights are found on the Sami shamanistic drum. The phenomenon has several different names in Sami. It is, for instance, known as Guovssahas, which means "the light which can be heard". The northern lights were traditionally associated with sound by the Sami, the indigenous people of Norway. And during the Viking Age, the northern lights were said to be the armour of the Valkyrie warrior virgins, shedding a strange flickering light.

Editor:Zheng Limin |Source: CNTV.CN

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