Alaska is one of the best places on earth to see the northern lights – colorful bands of light that dance in the dark night sky. Travelers from all over the world come to Alaska to see this stunning display and take advantage of other winter experiences like snowmobiling, dog mushing, skiing, festivals and sporting events.
So what are the northern lights, exactly? The northern lights, also known as aurora borealis, occur about 60 or 70 miles above the earth’s surface —about 10 times higher than a jet aircraft flies — and can extend hundreds of miles into space. Electrically charged particles traveling through the earth’s magnetosphere collide with gasses, creating energy in the form of light. The intensity of solar flares varies the intensity and extent of activity within the Auroral oval, the ring-like area above the geomagnetic north where auroral activity is concentrated. The most common color displayed is a brilliant yellow-green, but the aurora borealis can also produce red, blue and purple patterns.
How to see them
The northern lights occur all four seasons of the year, although they are harder to see under the Midnight Sun. The best time to see the lights is between August and April, when less daylight leads to darker night skies. Many Alaska hotels offer a northern lights wake-up call (upon request, of course) to wake visitors when the lights are out.
Towns and cities produce ambient light that interferes with aurora viewing, and while auroras are still visible from cities, it is best to view from the outskirts of town, or in an area known for clear, dark skies. The Interior (especially Fairbanks) and Far North regions are considered the best in Alaska for northern lights viewing, although the aurora can be spotted anywhere in Alaska.
Find northern lights viewing services
Watch the Indie Alaska video I Am The Aurora Hunter