Full Guide to Northern Lights in Alaska

Northern Lights

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So, you want to know how to get the most out of your Northern Lights tour in Alaska? In this blog, we will reveal the mystery that surrounds the occurrence of the northern lights (a little bit of the science behind what happens), prepare you for your trip to Alaska, and tell you the best place to see northern lights in Alaska!

The Origin of Northern Lights

The origin for the term northern lights is derived from the Greek Aurora Borealis, in which Aurora means sunrise and Boreas means wind. Its first-ever documentation was found, dating back to from 568-567 BCE, on a Babylonian clay tablet by the official astronomers of King Nebuchadnezzar II. Transcribed on it is a description of an “unusual red glow” in the sky at night. Thanks to the technology of today, we can explain the phenomenon of the “red glow” that the Babylonians saw, which is comparable to the red northern lights in Alaska.

Electrically charged sun particles emitted from its surface during solar storms reach our planet and are captured by the Earth’s magnetic field and are then carried towards the north and south poles. As for the different colors of the aurora, they change depending on what gasses are heated by the sun particles in the process, mainly nitrogen and oxygen, which cause the lights to have a gradient ranging from green to blue to even pink!

Red Glow

Preparing for a Northern Lights Trip

Before committing to buying tickets to Alaska, you must first consider the best time to visit Alaska. Although the next solar maximum returns in 2024, which is when the solar activity on the surface of the sun is at its peak, it’s more important to select the time of year when the sky is mostly clear, which in Alaska is during spring. Also, the display of northern lights tends to intensify around the equinox months of September and March because of the Earth’s tilt in relation to the Sun. These scientific facts can help guide you into making your final decision for when to travel.

Another trick that will enhance your northern lights viewing experience is to avoid the full moon and add a week on either side to avoid the sky being washed out by moonlight. Lastly, make sure to arrive at the viewing destination of your choice at 10 p.m. to see the aurora at its brightest, which can take up to 4 hours, leading up to 2 a.m.

when to visit Alaska

Selecting Your Northern Lights Viewing Destination

Because Alaska is so notorious for its northern lights experience, it has many dedicated places that provide the best conditions. Cleary Summit, which is located 17 miles from Fairbanks, is one that has earned the reputation of “Capital of the northern lights hunt in Alaska” for its vast open spaces with stunning trees surrounding you, which provides excellent protection from the freezing winds. Furthermore, this location has nearby accommodations so you have multiple attempts at capturing the northern lights.

If you are having doubts about finding the right observation spot or arriving there on time, we propose the city of Barrow, also known as Utqiagvik, where you can find the Top of The World Hotel that organizes outdoor tours of different kinds, which includes viewing the northern lights. Part of the experience is going out with a group of people on a northern light hunt, which can yield new interesting connections with likeminded people!

Denali Alaska

Lastly, the place that offers the best environmental conditions for seeing the northern lights is the Denali Alaska area, which is valued for being nearly free from all human light pollution. Being composed of vast open spaces, Denali is the place for people who are experienced in navigating Alaskan terrain and who are confident that they will be at the right place and at the right time.

Without a doubt, the first thing that any newcomer to Alaska must do is take a night to admire the natural beauty of the science and astronomy worlds colliding, resulting in the magnificent northern lights. Such a captivating experience comes for free (if you know when and where to look) and in terms of beauty, it is as incredible as any of the 7 Wonders of the World. Search for new things to do in Alaska by selecting any of our expertly built Alaska tours and go explore the world with Firebird Tours!