Most North Americans have never seen the Northern Lights, but this is the year that could change for you. Scientists say that in 2024, the captivating astronomical phenomenon will be more visible than it has been for years – and for years to come.
Word is getting out. Requests by travelers for trips to see the Aurora Borealis this year have reportedly increased nearly 400% - that’s 4 times the number of adventurous souls wanting to cross viewing the Northern Lights off their bucket lists. It puts demand for the Northern Lights ahead of an African safari, Japan during cherry blossom season and Peru’s Machu Picchu.
How the Aurora Borealis Light Up Your Life – Especially This Year
In the early 1600’s, Italian astronomer Galileo named the almost mystical natural wonder of eery green, red and magenta lights dancing in the northern skies. He named them for the Roman goddess of dawn, Aurora, and the Greek god of the north wind, Boreas.
The Northern Lights originate with the sun. It shoots particles into space that end up in the lower part of the earth’s atmosphere where gases are thickest. When they meet up with those gases, the collision releases energy in the form of light, visible in dark, clear skies. Oxygen emits green and sometimes red light, and nitrogen in the atmosphere glows magenta. When solar winds gust and release particles at different rates, and the particles interact with the earth’s magnetic field, the lights appear to dance and flicker in the sky.
The sun has an 11-year cycle of activity, and 2024 is one of the most active years in its cycle. That means
there will be brighter and more frequent Northern Lights this year than usual.
It’s a once-a-decade chance to increase your odds of experiencing one of the most rare and cherished celestial wonders.
What are the Odds?
Your best chances of seeing the Northern Lights depend on a number of factors:
· How close you are to the Earth’s magnetic North Pole. You want to get within or near the Arctic Circle for the best chances. Some of the most popular places to view the Northern Lights include the Arctic regions of Scandinavia, Alaska, Canada, Iceland and Greenland.
· Clear, dark skies; so get as far away from the light pollution of cities on nights that aren’t clouded over.
· Stay up. Be looking at the north skies around midnight; the peak time.
· Time of the year. Northern Lights are most common in the winter, when nights are longer and darker, but the Northern Lights can happen in fringe months, as well.
· It doesn’t happen every night; so the more nights you spend in the far north increases your odds, too.
Seabourn Cruise in the Arctic: Checking the Boxes
These photos are from our cruise on the Seabourn Venture, the ultra-luxury cruise line’s first expedition ship, in Greenland in August, 2023; even before solar activity peaks in 2024.
We were awakened by an announcement from the bridge at midnight (right on time for prime Northern Lights viewing hours!) Everyone on the ship who was sleeping was happy to get up for the surprise – and unexpected news: Northern Lights outdoors, right now, in August!
It was icing on the cake of an extraordinary expedition voyage that took us to remote Arctic wonders like spectacular iceberg fields and tidewater glaciers where the ice glowed a magic blue; sailing through fjords surrounded by towering rock walls; taking zodiac, kayak and even submarine rides in pristine waters rarely seen by humans; and to remote communities where we became immersed in indigenous culture, Viking history, and modern-day lifestyles in the North.
All while enjoying the first-class surroundings, dining, hospitality and amenities of one of the finest cruise lines at sea.
While the August timing was a surprise, everything else about our cruise on the Seabourn Venture created winning conditions for Northern Lights viewing: there’s no city light interference with the view from a ship at sea; we were on board for 2 fascinating weeks: 14 nights of chances for the Northern Lights to make an appearance; and our cruise took us – in the lap of luxury – far closer to the North Pole than it would be easy, far less comfortable – to do on land.
We didn’t set out on our Seabourn Venture cruise in Greenland and Iceland expecting to see the Northern Lights.
But, standing on my veranda at midnight in the ocean close to the Arctic Circle, I felt the same awe and connection to the universe as the earliest humans to inhabit the far North – gazing up in wonder at the gift of a rare light show in the night skies.
START YOUR ARCTIC TRIP!
Images: Lynn Elmhirst
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