Everything you need to know to catch the sight of a lifetime.
Though the northern lights are often associated with destinations in Europe, America is home to one of the best (and most underrated) viewing spots: Alaska. Thanks to its crystal-clear skies, proximity to the Arctic Circle, and deep, dark winter nights, this remote American state receives some of the world’s most jaw-dropping light shows every year.
The northern lights are a product of energy from the sun called solar wind. When the solar wind hurtles across space, it encounters the Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere, resulting in a high-energy reaction of charged atoms and molecules — the dazzling spectacle we call the northern lights. Though the exact colors and shapes of the light change by the hour, optimal viewing times and locations are relatively consistent year-to-year. If you’re planning a trip to Alaska to see the northern lights, there are two major variables to consider: where and when.
Though northern lights sightings are possible throughout Alaska, the further north you travel, the better. The city of Fairbanks, once a gold rush boom town, is unofficially regarded as Alaska’s northern lights capital, thanks to its easy travel access and bounty of accommodation options (to view the lights from the comfort of healing waters, visit Chena Hot Springs Resort). There are dozens of other great observation points nearby, including Haystack Mountain, Murphy Domes, Creamer’s Field, and Cleary Summit.
Alaska’s northern lights season stretches from September through mid-April, with the most dramatic views clustering around the Spring Equinox in March. In terms of the time of day, the Geophysical Institute recommends within an hour or so of midnight. That said, there is no hard-and-fast rule for seeking the best views: the most crucial ingredients are clear skies and darkness, which can occur unexpectedly throughout the year.
Global health note: Due to the shifting nature of COVID-19, Seabourn highly recommends checking in with all of the above venues before visiting to confirm hours of operation and pertinent regulations.
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