How to catch the northern lights

Of all the stunning natural phenomena, the aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights, might be the most spectacular. “The northern lights result when charged particles streaming from the sun collide with molecules high up in Earth’s atmosphere, exciting these molecules and causing them to glow,” according to Space.com.

Those glowing streaks in the sky, which occur only at high and low latitudes, can be hard to pin down and even harder to capture, but we’ve got some ideas for you.

Know your location

Pick your spot and book that ticket. Photo: Vincent Guth/Unsplash

Northern Scandinavia, which tends to have low light pollution, is ideal for unfettered viewing. Alaska and the Canadian Yukon are prime in North America, and sometimes the lights can creep as far south as Pennsylvania. Russia tends to be less than perfect, because there isn’t much infrastructure for tourism to get you where you’d need to go, and the same goes for most of the far-south latitudes.

Time your viewing

Canyons, fjords, open fields: There are plenty of beautiful places to catch the northern lights. Photo: Jonatan Pie/Unsplash

According to the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute, “the dark of the moon in March is the best time of year to travel to the auroral zone since the yearly variation of auroral activity also peaks around the equinox.”

On the nights you try to see the lights, your best viewing will probably be between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., but you can catch them anytime it’s dark.

Check the weather

Streaks in the sky. Photo: Bjorn Are Andreassen/Unsplash

Aurora Services has an aurora forecast, so you can check solar winds in addition to things like cloud cover. Look at the phases of the moon, too; a new moon is best because there will be less light to distract.

Be patient

Northern lights over the North Sea. Photo: Paul Morris/Unsplash

Like pretty much anything worth doing, you’re probably going to have to wait for the good stuff. Lie back, relax and keep your eyes on the sky. The aurora borealis starts subtly at first.

Set your aperture

Get those settings dialed so you can kick back and enjoy the show. Photo: Vincent Guth/Unsplash

It can be hard to capture the northern lights on film, but if you want to ‘gram the experience, some general advice is to bring a tripod and set your ISO high and your exposure long.

More about the northern lights from GrindTV

Chris Burkard talks new film about surfing under the Northern Lights; video

Meet an Alaska-based aurora hunter who chases the Northern Lights for a living

Mick Fanning surfs under the Northern Lights at night in Norway; video