Where can I see the Northern Lights?
The Aurora Borealis is most commonly seen in the polar regions, within a radius of 2,500 km around the magnetic poles. This area is known as the Auroral Zone or the Auroral Oval. For the Northern Lights, the further north you travel the more likely you are to catch a glimpse of the aurora. Above the Arctic Circle (66°33’N) is the best place to go aurora hunting which is why northern Norway and Svalbard are some of the best places on earth to see the Northern Lights.
When can I see them?
While technically, the Northern Lights are present for much of the year, there aren’t enough hours of darkness to see them during the summer months, even above the Arctic Circle. The winter season in the Arctic lasts from late September to late March/ early April. During this time, the Arctic sky is dark enough for the Northern Lights to be visible in the right conditions. The aurora is at its most active around the equinoxes in March and September.
The Northern Lights most commonly appear between 17:00 and 02:00. They don’t usually exhibit for long – they may only show for a few minutes, then glide away before returning. A good display may last for no longer than 15-30 minutes at a time, although if you’re really lucky, it could extend to a couple of hours or longer.
To see the Northern lights, the sky needs to be dark and clear of any clouds. Some people claim the aurora comes out when temperatures are colder. This isn’t the case – it’s just that when the skies are cloudless, temperatures tend to drop.
How are the Northern Lights created?
Read our full guide on what causes the Northern Lights.
The light show we see from the ground is caused by electrically charged particles from space entering the Earth’s upper atmosphere at a very high speed.
How will I know if the Northern Lights will appear?
Unfortunately, there is no 100% guarantee of spotting the Northern Lights. Being in the right place at the right time helps i.e. northern Norway in winter, which is why Hurtigruten feels confident enough to offer its unique Northern Lights Promise.
But there are forecasts available. The Kp Index is generally considered the most accurate – it’s much more reliable than the weather forecast. The forecast corresponds to the planetary magnetic index on a scale of one to nine, with one being very low activity and nine very high. The Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska has an excellent website, which allows you to view predicted activity in all auroral regions. You can also sign up for Northern Lights forecast email alerts that tell you when activity rises above four to five on the Kp scale.