My First Experience Witnessing the Aurora Borealis

One of the most fascinating experiences I’ve had to date was watching the aurora borealis.  While typically the colors that splash across my desktop wallpaper are an eerie green with streaks of white, this year (May 10th) when I first witnessed the phenomena, I was surprised to find splashes of pink and purple.  Almost an ethereal mix of lights that you couldn’t look away from.  I also learned from my own research that a similar phenomenon happens in the southern hemisphere known as aurora australis, or Southern Lights, that also create vibrant color displays across the sky.

Even with the scientific understanding of the Northern Lights, there remains a sense of mystery and wonder surrounding the brilliant display of colors.  For indigenous peoples living in the Arctic regions where the Northern Lights are most commonly observed, these displays have long held spiritual and cultural significance.  Aurora borealis is believed to be a manifestation of the spirits of the ancestors.  It is seen as a message from the spirit world, a reminder of the presence and guidance of those who have passed on.  It was seen as a form of communication from the spirit realm conveying messages about the future.

What is the Aurora Borealis?

The aurora borealis is a product of interactions between the Earth’s magnetic field and charged particles from the sun.  When these particles, primarily electrons and protons, collide with atoms and molecules in the Earth’s atmosphere, they release energy in the form of light, creating the spectacular displays in the night sky.  Upon further investigation, I learned that the colors originate in different layers of the atmosphere, with pink being the highest altitudes in the atmosphere due to oxygen excitation, whereas purple colors are due to nitrogen ionized at lower altitudes.  This was incredibly fascinating as a science guru.

Where can we See the Aurora?

Typically, you would have to drive out of the city limits to see faint streaks of green, however this year’s light show could be seen in just my backyard without special binoculars or equipment.  The best time to see the Northern Lights is during the winter months from September to March.  The exact timing can vary based on location, solar activity, and weather conditions.  The best viewing area is outside of the city limits with a clear sky, since clouds can obstruct the view.  Checking weather forecasts in advance may help.  The darker nights at higher northern latitudes where the sun sets early and rises late during the winter gives the best chance to witness the aurora.

Best Locations in the World to See the Aurora?

Luckily, Canada is one of the best places to witness the aurora.  The aurora is most commonly observed in high-latitude regions near the Arctic Circle, such as Alaska, Canada, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia.  However, strong auroral displays can occasionally be seen at lower latitudes during periods of heightened solar activity.