Why you need to see the Northern Lights in 2023 (and where to go)

Is 2023 the year you finally see the Northern Lights? It should be.

The Northern Lights depend on solar activity, which follows an 11-year cycle. In the middle of this cycle, the sun has a period of intense activity called solar maximum. It is preceded and followed by a period of less activity at the beginning and end of the cycle, called solar minimum.

We are approaching solar maximum right now.

“Our current solar cycle 25 started in 2019 and in 2023 we will be approaching solar maximum in 2025,” said landscape and nature photographer Dan Zafra of Capture The Atlas, who recently hosted a photography contest for northern Lights. A single year can produce drastic changes in solar activity, but 2023 could see something very special.

Every solar cycle is different, but solar cycle 25 proves to be very positive for large auroras compared to solar cycle 24.

Zafra himself observed an increase in auroral activity. “I travel to northern latitudes every year to hunt and photograph auroras and have noticed a big change this year compared to 2021,” he says. “We’ve had more nights of Northern Lights activity and, most importantly, bigger screens.”

Northern Hemisphere viewing season is between September and March – purely because the nights are long and darkest – with stronger displays often occurring around the equinoxes during these months.

2022 has also been consistent in terms of solar flares. “They cause the big shows that amaze you,” says Zafra. “Like when the aurora moves across the sky with definite shapes and colors like pink and red that are visible to the naked eye.”

Standard procedure is to recommend aurora hunters head to the Arctic Circle in Alaska, northern Canada, Iceland, Lapland (northern Norway, Finland and Sweden) and northern Russia to maximize their chances of seeing the Northern Lights. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that in addition to being more frequent and intense, aurora exposures are moving south, on average, opening up new places to travel. “There have been more displays at lower latitudes in places like Michigan, the Faroe Islands and southern Canada – places where auroras are typically only visible during solar maximum years,” said Zafra, who is in contact with many aurora hunters around the world. .

If you choose to travel north, there is one thing you absolutely need: patience. Many and many things. “Most first-timers visiting northern latitudes expect to arrive somewhere dark and see the lights dance and change colors,” Zafra said. “But aurora displays depend on many factors, including long-term space weather forecasts and key things like the solar wind.” Auroras fluctuate throughout the night, he says. “Some big screens require patience and waiting for the magic to happen.”

Zafra recommends reading and understanding the Northern Lights forecast as well as downloading a Northern Lights app to receive the latest updates for your location. An accurate local weather forecast is also crucial, as clouds are just as likely to thwart your plans as a lack of geomagnetic activity.

If you’re lucky, the Northern Lights will put on a sudden, intense show just outside your accommodation. If you’re unlucky, you should also be prepared to face the cold for long periods of time while you wait for weak auroras, hoping for better. “Long nights hunting the Northern Lights require layering, as you can expect to spend long periods outdoors in places with cold temperatures,” says Zafra, who recommends toe warmers, hand warmers, and more. and back if you feel the cold. It’s also a good idea to make sure your camera and smartphone batteries are fully charged as cold weather saps battery life faster (a spare camera battery and/or a portable battery in a pocket close to your body is a wise decision).

“Above all, be patient and be prepared,” says Zafra. “When you’re in the right place at the right time, great auroras can happen quickly!”

I wish you clear skies and big eyes.

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