Demystifying the Aurora Borealis: Where and How to Find This Must-See Phenomenon
August 31, 2018
The Aurora Borealis is a mystical phenomenon that tops bucket lists around the world. Known in Roman myths as the “dawn of the north,” these stunning light displays have captivated people for centuries.
Although this natural wonder is a must-see for most, it can be surprisingly difficult to nail down. Here’s a quick lowdown on what you should know.
What is the Aurora Borealis?
Also known as the Northern Lights, this natural phenomenon takes up the skies in the form of dancing lights. But they’re more than just dancing lights. An Aurora is actually electrically-charged particles from the sun that collide with the earth’s atmosphere. In the North, this display is called the Aurora Borealis and in the South it’s known as the Aurora Australis.
Where Can You See Them?
The best places to view the Northern Lights are in some of the farthest-reaching northern countries in the world—places like Norway, Iceland, Finland, Scotland, and northern Canada. Unfortunately, if you live in the States, the only consistent spot to see them is in Alaska.
Auroras occur primarily near the northern and southern magnetic poles, and they present an irregular, oval-shaped viewing area. Although, reports have shown that people have seen the northern lights as far south as New Orleans, these sorts of solar flares are rare.
The most important tip for finding the Aurora Borealis is actually searching for them. This phenomenon can be tricky to find sometimes and if you’re on a time crunch, you’ll want to get familiar with your aurora tracker (downloadable on smartphones) and plan on driving away from the city to avoid light pollution.
When to See Them & What to Look For
The Northern Lights are unpredictable, but chasing them is part of the fun. You’re ultimately relying on a ton of natural elements coming together to create the perfect viewing conditions. You’ll want to make special note on night length and the phase of the moon.
The Northern Lights never truly stop, but you wont see them during daylight hours. That means from about April to August they wont be visible due to increased daylight hours. The best times lie between September and March. These months bring more darkness to the northern locales and provide perfect conditions for viewing.
Additionally, the moon phase can determine how well you’ll be able to see the lights. A new moon is great, as the sky is in total darkness, but a partial moon can help lighten up some details in the foreground. If you’re facing a full moon though, the sky can appear too bright, and it’s likely that the lights will be somewhat washed out.
Aside from seasonality and moon-cycles, your most important feature to look for is the KP index—which is the global geomagnetic storm index. This scale ranges between 0 and 9, where a value of 0 means that there is little geomagnetic activity and a value of 9 means extreme geomagnetic storming. Of course, the higher the number, the stronger the solar storm and the more likely you are to see the lights in more southern regions. You can use an aurora tracker app on your smartphone to check these predictions. Generally these resources compile a bunch of data together to create the most accurate report possible. But keep in mind that the northern lights are tricky and even the app doesn’t guarantee a sighting.
Photographing the Northern Lights
The Northern Lights can be pretty difficult to photograph, especially if you’re not used to shooting in low light or at night. Occasionally, you can capture some of this spectacular display with your normal cell phone or point-and-shoot camera, but there would have to be a fairly strong solar storm to do this.
If you’re serious about photographing this phenomenon, it’s worth investing in at least a small DSLR. You’ll need to make sure that the camera you’re using will allow you to manipulate the ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. Depending on how strong the solar storm and how dark the sky is, you’ll need to play around with these three settings to find the perfect exposure at the time. Also, it’s crucial that you invest in a sturdy tripod. Otherwise, you may have to set your camera up on a rock if you can find one. Here are some tips for setting up your camera:
Camera / Lens: Again, you’ll want to invest in a good DSLR with interchangeable lenses. Usually, you’ll receive a couple lenses with your camera. These should work for photographing the northern lights. Unless you’re intentionally zooming in on an object or spot in your landscape, you’ll want to make sure you’re using the smaller lens, generally with an 18-55mm zoom. This will ensure that you’ve got a wider angle than say a 70-200 mm zoom lens.
Aperture: If you have a lens with an f-stop from f/2.8 to f/4, you’re on the right track.
ISO: Keep your ISO between 1600 and 3200. Depending on your camera, 3200 might show up with a lot of noise so do your best to keep it in the lower range.
Shutter Speed: Shutter speed can be a bit tricky. You’ll naturally want to set your camera to the lowest shutter speed, but if you can keep it around 15 or 20 seconds instead of 30, you’ll end up with more details in the stars. This is because the full 30-second exposure will capture the rotation of the earth and cause the stars to leave small streaks of light.
Tripod: It’s very important that you come prepared with a tripod to keep the camera steady. If you don’t have a tripod, search for a spot with a stable rock to set your camera on.
Location: If you’re trying to get a captivating image of the Aurora Borealis, try setting up with a nice foreground in your frame. This will make your shot more interesting and even bring in some perspective to the image.
Feel free to play with these settings, as your results may very each time. More importantly, don’t give up. It can be a little frustrating try to capture the northern lights especially for the first time, but keep in mind it takes some trial and error to get it right.
Climbing Kilimanjaro requires planning and preparation. Choosing a route, deciding on gear, hiring a tour company, and planning your physical fitness are important. Here's what I learned from climbing Kilimanjaro.
Oregon truly has it all. Crashing waves, majestic tidepools, famous beach rocks and sunken ships all make the coast a must-do trip. But, there’s much more to Oregon than the coast. The innards of the state also boasts lush forests, jaw-dropping waterfalls, big mountains and winding rivers. Today we’re sharing our 8 day road trip itinerary exploring most of the beauty this must-see state has to offer. Happy trails!
Yosemite National Park has no shortage of hiking trails. Some of the most spectacular views I have ever seen came from this valley. With several hiking trails to choose from, one of the most famous and popular is the Mist Trail, and with good reason. The trail includes 2 waterfalls, Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls, and the best time to visit are in the Spring and early Summer when the water is raging. I recommend shoes with good traction as some parts of this hike can get very wet and slippery. Also any waterproof gear will definitely come in handy!
I have been looking far and wide for a quality goggle that has an interchangeable lens system. My buddy has the Smith I/O goggles, and I tried his, but couldn't get over the $200 price tag. These goggles are just as good, if not better than those. I am blown away. Incredible goggle for an incredible price. I highly recommend!
Went on a family vacation. I purchased a vest as well as my sister , niece and brother n law. Do not snorkel without one of these vests. My nephew borrowed one to use and he said he definitely could tell a difference and would be purchasing one for himself.
I do want to also mention in our family 7 of us own the masks.
I took it to Hawaii. It didn’t leak at all the whole time. The side corners of the frames almost act like mirrors to see more around the bend behind you (at least I think so). Great field of vision. A little pressure builds up on the face but it’s no different than traditional masks. I grew up snorkeling reefs and this mask was a lot of fun. Not designed for diving down but I still did a few feet and had no problems.