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The Northern Lights: What Are They & Where Can I See Them

June 05, 2020

Do you become starry-eyed thinking about the Northern Lights and dream of seeing them? Have you ever wondered what causes the Northern Lights?

Join us as we explore what creates the Northern Lights and where you can see them!


What Are They

Would you believe that the Northern Lights are caused by the sun?

The sun has moments where built-up energy is released and those energized particles are called ‘solar winds.’ As those particles travel across space, they are attracted to the magnetic field around the Earth. When those solar winds flow across our atmosphere there is a colourful reaction!


What is Earth’s magnetic field?

The energy formed in Earth’s centre is released from the top and bottom of the planet, like a battery. Since magnetic energy seeks a connection, like electricity jumping space to another wire, the magnetic field forms a circle around the planet.

That energy field creates our atmosphere keeping in certain vital gases like oxygen and nitrogen but creates a barrier to repel other elements.


What makes the colour of the Northern Lights?

When the stream of solar energy collides with Earth’s magnetic field, there is a reaction that creates a sparkling of colours.

When the solar energy collides with nitrogen it creates the deep reds, violets, blues.

When they collide with oxygen particles it displays the rich green and yellows colours that we see overhead.


Why do they seem to dance?

The energy that is produced from the sun comes flowing across space like a wave over water. Those solar winds come in surges and can be stronger at different times.

The way the aurora ribbon seems to dance and twirl above is thanks to the wavy nature of the solar winds.



When & Where Can You See Northern Lights

Many people think that above the Arctic Circle would be the best place to see the aurora borealis and only during winter… and they’re close!


Where can I go to see the Northern Lights?

The Northern Lights appear strongest in the far north because that is where the magnetic field is strongest so the reaction is more visible but we know that the ‘aurora zone’ is just south of the Arctic Circle.

This means that Iqaluit is one of the most amazing destinations for seeing the northern lights. It is a city that offers all of the comforts and luxuries but is full of outdoor activities to enjoy during the day before the real show begins!


When can I see the Northern Lights?

Although you can see the Northern Lights all year round, they often appear most vibrant and rich during the winter.

A place like Iqaluit gets dark enough at night during the summer that you may see them as you sit around a campfire.

In the winter can be so clear and strong that you can see them from your window while you cook or at a quiet and secluded site for photos like we have on our Getaways.


Can you predict the Northern Lights?

Like surfers reading a weather report for information on waves, there are places to find forecasts for the Northern Lights.

The Canadian Space Weather Forecast Centre uses satellites to analyze our magnetic field and compare it with incoming solar winds to forecast Northern Light activity as well as where it will appear strongest.


Our Trips with Northern Lights

Have you dreamed of seeing the Northern Lights and want to bring home exceptional photos of this galactic phenomenon? Our trips offer arctic wildlife viewing opportunities, northern outdoor activities, and located in some of the most ideal places for seeing the Northern Lights.

Click on any of our trips for more details:


Guided Northern Lights Getaway (Winter)

Come to Iqaluit through the winter when the hillside is a canopy of pristine snow and the northern lights dance above. A photography workshop of the first night of northern lights viewing helps you bring home breathtaking photos.



Polar Bear Mother & Newborn Cub Safari (Mid-Winter)

Come to northern Manitoba to the world’s most renowned polar bear denning region. Spend your days filming polar bear cubs and at night watch the aurora at its height.



Spring Polar Bears & Icebergs of Baffin Safari (Early Spring)

One of the best places to see polar bears surrounded by iconic icebergs among an Arctic landscape. At this time of year, all you’ll have to do is step outside your tent and you’ll probably see stunning colours.



Polar Bear Migration Fly-In Safari (Autumn)

Set perfectly within the Aurora Zone, this cabin-based safari puts you in comfortable and protected cabins right along the annual polar bear migration north.

This is a truly exquisite opportunity to enjoy up-close natural polar bear encounters by day and a vivid northern lights show above by night, with gourmet meals the whole time!


Are you interested in quick tips on photographing the northern lights?

Then try our blog:


Are you interested in an in-depth look into everything you’ll need to know to get exceptional photos of the northern lights?

Try a blog from one of our contributors:



Experience The Arctic On A Safari

Get chances to view elusive Arctic wildlife and experience the majesty of the Arctic on safaris almost year-round. View all Arctic Safaris here.

Ready for adventure? Contact our Arctic Travel Advisors to book.

Are you still curious about the many wonders of the Arctic or looking for more interesting content then explore more blogs here!

By: Mat Whitelaw