Northern Lights Viewing in Alaska | Canada – New Moon Dates Overview
Please Note: Prime viewing time is approximately from 4-5 days prior to New Moon and 4-5 days after New Moon
2014 - January 30, March 01, March 30, April 29, October 23, November 22, December 22
2015 - January 20, February 18, March 19, April 18, October 12, November 11, December 10
2016 - January 10, February 08, March 09, April 07, October 01, October 30, November 29, December 29
2017 - January 28, February 26, March 28, April 26, November 18, December 18
2018 - January 17, February 15, March 17, April 16, October 09, November 07, December 07
When is the best time to see the Aurora
A good time to observe the Aurora Borealis - or Northern Lights - in northern regions such as Alaska, Canada's Yukon Territory, Northern British Columbia and the Northwest Territories is around the equinox. The equinox occurs twice a year during March and September. The month of March for example offers an excellent trade off between milder Alaska winter weather conditions, longer daylight hours and dark skies. During the late autumn days in September the skies are not as dark and clear as during the winter months and Aurora viewing is in our opinion somewhat limited. Actually, we like to observe the Aurora in Chena north of Fairbanks, in Bettles above the Arctic Circle or within the Yukon Territory in total darkness and cold winter weather conditions during November, December, January and February. Temperatures are sometimes in the -20 and -40 degree range and unpleasant if you do not wear the right clothing but you'll see ribbons of fluorescent green and faint red lights running, ripple and play crack the whip across the dark northern skies. During the summer months from June until August Alaska gets about 20+ hours of daylight and obviously the nightly skies are simply not dark enough and accordingly the Aurora Borealis is not visible at all. In other locations farther from the average aurora oval, the main consideration is the level of geomagnetic activity, which varies rather unpredictably throughout the year.
When is the best time of the day to see the Aurora
Within the most active regions of Alaska and prime viewing areas the Aurora oval typically becomes visible around local midnight. Note: this is an astronomical midnight - which may be an hour or two different from the civil or the “ wall clock “ midnight due to daylight savings time / peculiarities in your time zone. Spectacular Aurora displays due to geomagnetic disturbance may be seen at any time when the sky is dark, but they are relatively unpredictable. Under average conditions, observations around local midnight are most likely to yield results.
100 % Guaranteed Aurora Viewing
Because the Aurora is an unpredictable phenomenon and you'll never know when the Aurora actually decide to turn up but it is most likely that you'll see the Aurora at least once during an average 4-day vacation.
What are the Temperatures in the Northern Regions
The average daily temperatures in February/March are approximately +20/-30 - equivalent to –8/-33 degrees Celsius. Please refer to the weather chart below.
How to observe the Aurora
If you follow our recommendations you should enjoy some pleasant viewing.
- Ensure - that you be there when the action begins. Because more often than not, the show picks up very quickly and also fades out as quickly as it started! Most of the auroras are out only about 2 to max 10 minutes at ones.
- Be Patient - this is maybe the most important thing in aurora viewing. If the show starts, it's always worth. Seeing a full-blown aurora show is just an indescribable experience.
- Experience - this is maybe the second most important (human) factor in aurora viewing. If you are first patient and then successful in seeing auroras, the direct consequence is that you will gain of course - experience. After a while you will begin to recognize what the aurora is doing, in which phase it is and so on. And the most important thing - You will learn how a weak aurora looks like!!! Because, even that we are hoping to see a bright "eruption phase " aurora, the aurora isn't all the time bright. So the experience will help you to see and determine if there is a weak aurora, which could get brighter in the future! I
- Light Conditions - the primary reason for not seeing an aurora are any city light obstruction or a bright twilight. Our destinations are far away from a city or other light obstruction and therefore should guarantee the best viewing conditions possible.
- Weather - don't think overcast weather prevent you from Aurora viewing. Although often clouds do ruin everything, but at times...you can also get lucky breaks! Another example, during a major aurora storm in 2001 the forecasts and satellite pictures showed that it should be overcast, but it was not. We could see the stars and the aurora through the thin clouds! So, give it a try anyway...it could be worth it!
What causes the Aurora
Energetic charged particles from the magnetosphere. These particles are electrons and protons that are energized in the near geo-space environment. This energization process draws its energy from the interaction of the Earth's magnetosphere with the solar wind. The magnetosphere is a volume of space that surrounds the Earth. We have this magnetosphere because of Earth's internal magnetic field. This field extends to space until it is balanced by the solar wind.
What is the altitude of the Aurora Borealis
The bottom edge is typically at 100 km (about 60 miles) altitude. The aurora extends over a very large altitude range. The altitude where the emission comes from depends on the energy of the energetic electrons that make the aurora. The more energy the bigger the punch, and the deeper the electron get into the atmosphere. Very intense aurora from high-energy electrons can be as low as 80 km (50 miles). The top of the visible aurora peters out at about 2-300 km (120-200 miles), sometimes high altitude aurora can be seen as high as 600 km (350 miles). This is about the altitude at which the space shuttle usually flies.
How to take the best Pictures
For the first -time or for seasoned aurora photographer, a 35 mm camera on a tripod equipped with a cable release is a must. Use a wide-angle 24 mm to 50 mm lens and set it to an f-stop which is the fastest – or one slower to avoid distortion of bright star images – usually f/1.4 – f/2.8. Please note: When you do your online research for Aurora Photography, you’ll find advantages and disadvantages for traveling during a full moon cycle. A disadvantage may be that the Aurora is somewhat faint during the night because the brightness of the moon’s reflection can fade "the lights" out. On the other side, the full moon light may be used to illuminate interesting objects such as mountains, a forest or nice log cabin in the foreground. Many aurora pictures include buildings with lights on inside to provide an interesting foreground subject. Depending on your shooting location, this feature might not be available. However, a full moon will help light up anything you have in front of you, no matter where you are. Because shots are done for at least six to eight seconds and up to fifteen seconds or more (depending on your shutter and ISO settings), the full moon will do a great job of making what would otherwise be a silhouette into a well-lit subject. Conversely, if you choose to go when there isn’t a full moon, a strong flash can be helpful in popping light onto a foreground subject. For more information please refer to our photo section below.
- Exposures of 5 to 15 seconds work well unless the aurora is faint or mostly stationary, in which case the exposure time should be doubled. People tend to overexpose their photos, causing the aurora to look washed out. If the aurora is bright, moonlight and city lights should not interfere and can offer an interesting foreground. Never use filters because they could cause internal reflections. If it is very dark, a silhouette of a tree of lit cabin will certainly add to the scene. Video cameras are normally not sensitive enough to successfully record the aurora.
- Because aurora occurs under clear skies, photographers will often be shooting in temperatures well below zero. Since cold saps camera batteries, it is advisable to use an older camera with mechanical shutter instead of one that is fully automatic. Cold makes plastic brittle, so the cable release should be wired mesh vice plastic. At minus 40 Fahrenheit, all cameras will freeze in less than 10 minutes; before taking it inside to warm, place it in a zip-lock plastic bag to reduce condensation.
- Tape the lens to infinity so that it doesn’t slip and cause your images to be out of focus. Don’t try for a 37th exposure; it might break the film, and it is best to overexpose your first frame on the roll so that the film processor knows where to start cutting your negatives. Wind your finished roll of film slowly so that it doesn’t shatter or cause static buildup – this may appear as scratch. While Kodak film processing mailers are generally reliable, it may be worth the extra cost to have the film processed through a custom photo lab. Going the custom lab route will save the film from being lost in the mail or scratched in an automated process.
- Slower speed film (print or slide) has better gain resolution; making for a sharper image when enlarged. Thus it may be too slow to record the fine detail structure of the aurora.
- Medium-speed color film (200 /400 ASA) works as well. Purists insist on slide film. You can try a faster film, but keep in mind that graininess and color quality tend to decrease with increasing film speed. We recommend using 400-speed film is a good compromise between detail and quality of the image.
- Different films will emphasize different colors of the aurora, so experimentation is advisable. Bracketing your exposures (05 seconds, 10 seconds and 15 seconds) will give you the characteristics of the film. Even in a roll of 36 exposures, there are only a few shots that are acceptable to me.
Alaska Package Tour Info: Flights, Meals, Clothing, Weather, Sightseeing, Reservations
Flights to Alaska
Alaska -, Continental -, United -, Delta Airlines and US Airways are providing multiple flight connections daily to Anchorage and Fairbanks from the lower 48's. For current rates please refer to: Alaska Airlines or other airlines and the many online ticket reservation systems of your choice. Sorry, but we do not provide a reservation service for airlines tickets. All advertised tour rates do not include flights to/from Alaska.
Hotel Accommodation and Tour Rates
Single Room Rates = Accommodation for 1 person only, our advertised rates are for the entire room | Double Room Rates = 2 person traveling together and sharing the room, our advertised rates are per person | Triple Room Rates = a party of 3 people traveling together and sharing the room, our advertised rates are per person | Quad Room Rates = a party of 4 people traveling together and sharing the room, our advertised rates are per person. Please check each tour for all services included. Many tours do not included food e.g.: breakfast, lunch or dinner. If such services are included it will be listed at each tour.
Recommended Winter Clothing
We recommend to take fleece or heavy wool sweaters down jackets or similar cold weather gear with attached hood, gloves, sun glasses, wool shirts, cotton or thermal underwear, mittens, sturdy winter boots, lip balsam and/or moisturizing cream with you to Alaska to fully enjoy the beautiful outdoors during the winter months. If you do not have special winter clothing you may be able to purchase items at your local outdoor stores or through eBay. Some stores may even rent some particular gear - just ask. We recommend the following top brands: Patagonia, Columbia, Marmot, North Face, Sorel Boots, Mountain Hardwear and Arcteryx. The largest outdoor stores in Anchorage are: (please contact the store directly) More Information
REI - Recreational Equipment, 1200 W. Northern Lights Blvd - Anchorage (907) 272-4565
Mountain View Sports, 3838 Old Seward Highway, Anchorage (907) 563-8600
Alaska Mountaineering, 2633 Spenard Road, Anchorage (907) 272-1811
Food & Beverage
Meals are not included in our tours (except as otherwise stated within each "Tour Included" section) and we do not provide any pre-paid meal packages either. Thus, you will find a large number of good restaurants within the cities of Fairbanks or Anchorage and our lodges and resorts are providing a dining room and/or a-la-carte restaurant with an extended and affordable food and beverage selection.
Sightseeing tours are not included in our tour packages (except as otherwise stated within each "Tour Included" section) but we do offer a variety of optional local tours. Please check our website for further information or contact us directly.
If you plan to travel during: (1) New Moon Dates (2) National Holidays (3) Long Weekends (4) Local Alaska Events etc. - tours are most likely well booked or even sold out far in advance and it will be virtually impossible to materialize any last minute requests. Accordingly it is highly advisable to book particular tours as early as possible.