The Northern Lights are known as one of the most beautiful sights that the world has to offer. Humans have witnessed them occurring in the Arctic for thousands of years, and thanks to modern technology, people from around the world can now vacation every year to see auroras for themselves, bathing in their striking, multicolored glow. However, if you’re planning a trip to the Arctic to see the Northern Lights, you may be wondering when the best time of day to witness them is.
The Northern Lights require dark, night skies as well as minimal cloud cover and a prime viewing location. Here’s how to determine the best time of day to see the Northern Lights.
What Time of Day to See the Northern Lights?
As should be clear by now, in order to see the Northern Lights, you need to travel to the Arctic Circle during the winter. Daylight makes it impossible to view auroras because the sun’s light drowns out the spectrum of the Northern Lights. Due to the Earth’s axial tilt, the Arctic experiences massive shifts in daylight throughout the year, with near-constant sunlight during the summer and near-total darkness in winter. As such, you will want to visit the Arctic during the winter to maximize your chances of seeing an aurora.
Additionally, you must factor in residual daylight in the Arctic even during the winter months. Contrary to popular myth, much of the Arctic is not completely dark during the winter. With the exception of the North Pole—and even then for only a short period surrounding the winter solstice in December—much of the Arctic receives a few hours of daylight in winter. In order to see the Northern Lights, you must pick a time at which there is no sunlight in the sky.
In general, the best time of day to view auroras is between the hours of 9:30 pm and 1am. This is the period at which the sky is darkest, the sun is furthest from the sky, and your chance of seeing an aurora is maximized. Most recorded auroras have occurred during these hours. Additionally, these hours are the most convenient because they allow you to travel to an aurora viewing location during the day and return home in time for a good night’s sleep.
It’s worth noting that auroras can and have occurred outside of this time window. In some places in the Arctic, auroras have been observed as early as 4pm and as late as 6am. However, due to residual twilight in the skies during these times, your chances of seeing an aurora are greatly reduced. As such, you should plan to view the Northern Lights during the prime watching window of 9:30 pm to 1am.
Also keep in mind that the Northern Lights cannot be predicted due to the varying ways in which the sun behaves. While solar cycles can and are tracked, the amount of solar wind (particles emitted by the sun that cause auroras) varies on a regular basis and cannot be forecast in advance. It is entirely possible that you will not be able to see an aurora on a particular night due to a lack of sufficient solar wind to generate them.
However, auroras are regular occurrences in the northern part of the world during winter. Despite what some sensationalist articles might claim, auroras will continue to occur regardless of changes in the solar cycle due to the fact that the sun is always emitting solar wind. If you stay in the Arctic for at least several days during the winter, you are guaranteed to see an aurora at least once.
To prepare to see auroras during prime viewing hours, you should ensure that you are well-rested and have gotten all other things you need to do done before you head out. You should also prepare adequately by wearing appropriate clothing. Due to the fact that light pollution from cities often drowns out auroras, most viewing locations are in rural areas. Wear warm, multilayered clothing so that you can stay warm during the coldest part of the night. You may also want to prepare some coffee or hot cocoa to stay warm, though depending on what type of tour you choose, your tour operator may offer you some amenities.
Taking a trip to witness the Northern Lights may seem complicated, but it really isn’t. So long as you take into account such things as what time to go, where to go, and what time of day to head out, you’ll be treated to one of the greatest miracles that the planet has to offer. If you’re curious about the Northern Lights, why not book a trip and see them for yourself? It’ll be one of the most memorable experiences that you will ever have.