Ribbons of ethereal light emerge from the deep darkness of the northern sky, unfurling and rippling slowly, a flurry of multi-hued magic sweeping across the horizon. Beautiful, breathtaking and bewitching, the Northern Lights – technically called Aurora Borealis, meaning ‘dawn of the north’ – have quite rightfully earned the title of ‘nature’s greatest show’.
Mother Nature’s very own firework display has inspired wonder and awe in people for centuries. The Menominee Indians believed the lights were the spirits of great hunters, and the Sami peoples of Northern Scandinavia traditionally associated the lights with sound. Certain Inuit peoples thought they were the spirits of ancestors dancing in the next life, whilst others saw them playing football with a walrus head. Alaskan Inupiat peoples regarded them as the souls of the animals they hunted. Today’s scientific explanation, that the lights are created by the collision of electronically charged particles blown towards the earth’s atmosphere by solar winds, may not be quite so mystical but the enchanting flutter of colours flickering across the sky is still as mesmerising as ever, and each year draws fascinated travellers hoping to catch a glimpse of the elusive Lights.
The phenomenon occurs year round but can only be seen when the northern latitudes become bathed in darkness, from September to April. The Lights are not fully predictable and can never be guaranteed, but the further north you head, the better your chances of catching the show will be. Shades of green, blue and turquoise are most common but at times of high solar activity, the most spectacular displays can be witnessed, with red and orange tinged skies. Solar activity has an 11 year cycle; it is currently intensifying in time for the next peak in 2013, meaning that the next few years look promising for chasing the Lights.
Although at times seen in Scotland or, in extremely rare cases, even as far south as the Mediterranean, it’s best to head to Scandinavia or North America if you’re planning a trip to see the Lights. The Hotel & Igloo Village Kakslauttanen in Finland allows you to admire the spectacle from the comfort and warmth of your own glass igloo, and also offers many other wintery activities such as husky and reindeer safaris. The Tree Hotel in Sweden gives you the chance to experience Sami culture, go ice fishing or even build your own igloo between seeking the Lights. Ideally situated in Swedish Lapland, this unique concept hotel is a good base from which to see the Lights, and offers a sauna, perfect for warming up when things get chilly. The Lights can be viewed from almost everywhere in Iceland, but the Hotel Glymur offers particularly good conditions, secluded in the rugged Icelandic wildnerness, far from the blight of light pollution. If you’d prefer to head to North America, the Hotel Alyeska in Alaska offers snow sports and bear viewing, as well as a Northern Lights wake-up call, so you can be sure you won’t miss a thing.
Wherever you go, a trip in pursuit of the Northern Lights promises to be a truly captivating experience that you’ll never forget.
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