Monday, July 9, 2012

Aurora Borealis in Alaska: Art Exhibit of Nature

If you've ever needed a reason to visit Alaska during the winter, we have a doozy: the Northern Lights! Just about the only thing to get even Alaskans to leave the warmth of their homes in the middle of the winter night, the aurora borealis is at its brightest and most brilliant between December and March during our notorious long, dark nights. While the spectacle is most frequently seen further north in the state, occasional shows can be witnessed as far south as Juneau. No matter where you vacation in The Last Frontier, there is always a chance to see these dazzling shows during the winter!


When you see them, they might seem like great big ghosts in the night. Their eerie colors flutter in the night sky like giant celestial curtains in green, pink, red, white, and purple. It is no wonder some early Alaskan inhabitants, including the Kwakiutl and Tlingit tribes, thought the aurora were dancing spirits of the dead.

In layman’s terms, auroras are created when solar ions become trapped in the Earth’s magnetic field and collide with our atmospheric particles, emitting a colorful glow. Because these solar ions tend to congregate around the Earth’s North and South Poles, the aurora is more easily seen the further north and south you go. However, if a large amount of solar ions are trapped, the anomaly is easily seen further away from the poles.

A bit of trivia: auroras in the north are called aurora borealis (lights of the north), and in the south, they are called aurora australis (lights of the south).

How do you guarantee you’ll see the aurora during your visit to Alaska? Unfortunately, you can’t. However, if you hear a news story about a solar flare or storm during the winter, there is a good chance that the Northern Lights will be bright and beautiful that night. The best times to see the phenomenon is between 11:30 pm to 3:30 am during clear skies, so if while staying here in the winter, you happen to awake in the night, be sure to have a look outside... just in case. You can also keep an Internet-eye on the UAF Geophysical Institute (or sign up for their email alert) to get an idea of when to look during your Alaskan vacation.  Many of our inns also offer a wake-up service to call you or knock on your door if the aurora are displaying actively and you've asked to join the viewing:  it's not an unusual sight to see B&B visitors wrapped up in their robes with parkas over the top and bare feet in boots, standing in the driveway or parking lot, all looking up at the night sky!

So if you have ever hesitated to visit Alaska during the winter because of the cold, definitely reconsider! Your cozy winter getaway at one of our BBAA member inns just be highlighted by one of the most beautiful natural displays you’ll see in your lifetime!

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