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Solar Maximum: A Spectacular Opportunity to Witness the Northern Lights


My memories of seeing the northern light for the first time are very vivid. I was probably 8 or 10 years old, fast asleep in our little house in the country about an hour north of Toronto. My dad came home from working an afternoon shift, so it was about 1:00 a.m. He woke me up and asked me to come outside with him – “I want you to see something very special.”

We went to the backyard and he pointed to the sky to the north. Shimmering curtains of green light (and a bit of pink if memory serves) were dancing across the night sky. No patterns, no real form, it was as though a diaphanous veil was being gently blown across the atmosphere, and somehow kept aloft. Mesmerizing. I don’t remember how long we watched, but I’m pretty sure it was school night, and I had to go back to bed.

Bed? Who could sleep after that experience?

I was fascinated! What were the northern lights? What caused them? When could I see them again?

I couldn’t search for the answers to my questions on the internet. It didn’t exist yet!

My mom suggested I write to the McLaughlin Planetarium in Toronto. So I did.

And I waited. And I waited.

And one day I came home from school and there was a letter, addressed to me, from the McLaughlin Planetarium.

People who write letters back to kids are a special kind of person aren’t they?

The letter is long gone, but the person who wrote back to me took the time to explain a little about the phenomenon, why it happens, where it happens, and when it happens. And no little Karl, you can’t pick a day and expect to see the northern lights again. They are a rare and unpredictable occurrence.

Well that was in the 70’s! Science knows a lot more about the aurora borealis now, and occurrences can even be predicted with a great deal of accuracy (if conditions are right. More on that below).

Hence the importance of the upcoming solar maximum.

The solar maximum is an event that doesn’t just interest astronomers and space enthusiasts; it’s a phenomenon that can capture the imagination of anyone who loves spectacular natural displays. As we approach the next solar maximum, expected in 2024/2025, it’s an excellent time to start planning a journey to witness the northern lights.

What is the Solar Maximum?

The solar maximum is part of the Sun’s natural 11-year cycle, during which solar activity, including sunspots, solar flares, and coronal mass ejections, reaches its peak. This increase in solar activity results in more intense and frequent solar winds – streams of charged particles released from the Sun’s atmosphere. When these particles interact with the Earth’s magnetic field, mostly at the poles, they create the stunning light displays known as the northern lights (and the southern lights, or aurora australis. There’s almost nobody around to see that phenomenon, so we rarely hear about it).

Why is the Solar Maximum the Best Time for Northern Lights?

During the solar maximum, the increased solar activity means that the northern lights are more likely to occur and be more vibrant and widespread. This makes it an ideal time for enthusiasts and casual observers alike to plan a trip to view this celestial dance of colors.

Ideal Conditions to See the Northern Lights

To maximize your chances of seeing the northern lights, consider that the following conditions have to be in place:

  • Darkness: The lights are best viewed in complete darkness, away from city lights.
  • Clear Skies: Overcast conditions can obscure the view, so it’s crucial to choose a location with generally clear skies.
  • High Latitude: The lights are typically visible in the “Auroral Zone” – regions close to the magnetic poles, typically above 60 degrees latitude.
  • Solar Activity: Even when all the other conditions are met, there must be solar activity – sun spots, solar flares etc – as those are the charged particles that will interact with the magnetic fields around the earth.

Planning Your Trip: Where and When?

Some of the best destinations for observing the Aurora Borealis during the solar maximum include:

  •         Tromsø, Norway: Known as the ‘Gateway to the Arctic,’ Tromsø offers guided tours that take you away from city lights for an optimal viewing experience. The best time to visit is from September to April.
  •         Reykjavik, Iceland: Not only can you see the northern lights here, but also enjoy Iceland’s unique landscapes. The lights are visible from September to mid-April.
  •         Fairbanks, Alaska: Located just two degrees below the Arctic, Fairbanks is ideally situated for northern lights viewing, especially from August to April.
  •         Yellowknife, Canada: This city in the Northwest Territories boasts a high frequency of Aurora sightings from mid-November to April.
  •         Churchill , Canada: Famous for polar bear viewing in summer and autumn, Churchill is also a great place to see the aurora display, with plenty of options.
  •         Kakslauttanen, Finland: Imagine watching the northern lights from a glass igloo in a Finnish Lapland resort. The season runs from late August to late April.

We help with customized land vacations worldwide.  Let us know your preferences and we can incorporate within your planned itinerary with private guides, luxury accommodations and more!

If a cruise is preferred, it will likely have to be from September onward, as prior to that there will probably be too much daylight, even late in the day. Think Norway, Greenland, and Canada for voyages where there may be a possibility of seeing the northern lights. Early season Alaska, April and May, is also a possibility.

Lodge experiences can take place between September and April, and are available in Scandinavia, Canada, and the U.S.. Mid-winter means more hours of darkness and therefore a better chance of seeing the aurora, but it also means colder nights.

Tips for a Northern Lights Adventure

  • Book Accommodations in Advance: These destinations can get busy during peak viewing seasons.
  • Stay Flexible: Auroral activity can be unpredictable, so plan several nights for viewing.
  • Dress Warmly: Nights can be frigid in these high-latitude locations.
  • No promise of northern lights (and be wary of anyone who does): The northern lights are a natural phenomenon, and predicting when and where somebody will witness them is kind of like predicting a rainbow. Trips can be planned at the right time of year, to places that tend to experience the northern lights, and that will make it more likely that you will see the northern lights, but remember, it’s nature at it’s best!

The Unforgettable Experience

A trip to see the northern lights during a solar maximum isn’t just a holiday; it’s an experience that stays with you for a lifetime. The breathtaking views of the aurora dancing across the night sky are a reminder of our planet’s place in the vast universe and a spectacle that should be on every nature lover’s to see list.

As we look forward to the upcoming solar maximum, now is the perfect time to start planning your client’s adventure to witness the magnificent Aurora Borealis in all its glory.

P.S.   When on a cruise and the northern lights are on display, advise the crew to ask the bridge to turn off the lights on the higher decks, aft. Our captain did that for decks 10-14 and it made a huge difference in our experience of the northern lights. Dress warmly and take a photography class with the devices you will travel with, so you know what settings to use for nighttime and for the northern lights.

Many passengers on board didn’t know the settings for their cameras, and we ended up taking pictures for them and air dropping them. Additionally, some cruise lines won’t announce when the northern lights are out (in case it’s very late and guests are sleeping). There’s usually a ‘call list’ at the front desk and you have to add your name daily to get the call, in case the northern lights make an appearance.

Ready to plan your Northern Lights adventure?  Donna Salerno Travel helps with customized travel planning; YOU have all the fun.  Share with friends/family and get ready to see an amazing natural wonder.  Info@DonnaSalernoTravel or 888-777-7820

Source;  Karl K. / Signature Travel

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Donna Salerno


Donna Salerno Travel


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