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I'm wondering what time of year is best, and what locations might be best, for catching the aurora.

I'm currently thinking of February up at Sweden's ice hotel, but since the whole point of the trip is so that my wife can see the Aurora, I want to pick a location that affords the best chances to see one.

Edit: Just adding a link so you can see realtime aurora activity in the northern hemisphere

http://www.gi.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast/3

I know this is anecdotal, but I ended up going to Iceland in late february during the new moon and saw the aurora 3 out of 6 nights I was there. There was activity every single night but the biggest problem was weather. It was cloudy almost every single night.

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I like this question, but I think it's too vague and will just produce a list of good answers. In general, you want to go as north as you can, you want it to be a time of year when it gets dark there, and you want some attraction in addition to the lights, or some ease of getting there. A lot of places fit that. For example Algonquin Park in late September gave me the second best I've ever seen - the best was driving from Sault Ste Marie to Peterborough all night in late August. –  Kate Gregory Jun 22 '11 at 11:32
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I see your point, but given some places claim a 99% chance (Kangerlussaq), there may well be an actual answer to the question. More specific ones like best place in Sweden might be different questions? –  Mark Mayo Jun 22 '11 at 12:52
    
Ok I will limit it down to Europe then. –  Mark Hosang Jun 23 '11 at 2:53
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Are you only asking about aurora borealis or all auroras including aurora australis? –  hippietrail Jun 26 '11 at 12:09
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@Mark: That makes sense, the southern Australis is harder to get to and I've heard it's also less spectacular. –  hippietrail Sep 16 '11 at 7:54
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6 Answers

up vote 20 down vote accepted

I've just been in Rovaniemi, Finland a couple of weeks ago. It's currently impossible to see the aurora as the 24-hour day is in place; obviously you need a dark sky to see it.

However, Rovaniemi is just by the Arctic circle, is easy to get to (fly or train from Helsinki overnight), and is also the home of Santa Claus!

I stayed at the Borealis Guesthouse, which should give you a clue as to what is visible from there :)

Best times are when it's dark (obviously), so when there's a new moon is your best bet - the least light in the sky. Check that first for dates.

Secondly, if you have the ability to book last minute, you can sign up on twitter for Aurora storm alerts. However this is infeasible for most, given flight costs and so on.

Rovaniemi claims to see the auroras most nights, although of course it's totally weather and solar activity dependent - you can never guarantee it.

ONE MORE option however, does practically guarantee sightings. Kangerlussuaq in Greenland offers a 99% chance of seeing auroras between November and March, due to its very stable weather conditions. It's where I'm planning on going next year.

Good luck!

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wow great tip on checking on the new moon. –  Mark Hosang Jun 22 '11 at 6:51
    
    
Although those are nice places, it doesn't really answer the question. That would require a more thorough statistical approach considering climatology of both cloudiness and geomagnetic activity. –  gerrit Nov 16 '12 at 23:04
    
@gerrit the claim on the wiki page (I know, Wiki but still) is for 99%. Unless you know of another one that's statistically significantly higher (or even close) I would think that answers it pretty well, and takes into account the climate/weather. I don't believe (but could be wrong) that geomagnetic activity is scientifically predictable? –  Mark Mayo Dec 1 '12 at 2:11
    
Since 99% is very high (and it's similarly high for other places), that means the limiting factor is not geomagnetic activity, but cloudiness. So the place that's best for aurora viewing is probably the place inside the aurora belt that has the most clear skies. –  gerrit Dec 1 '12 at 15:28
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None of this suggests where you should go, but hopefully help your chances once you have picked somewhere.

So earlier this year I was in Tromsø, and I got talking to a professionalism northern lights photographer who lives up there, on the flight from Oslo. He had some useful tips for trying to view them.

Obviously going at short notice is best so you can get the best solar conditions but flight prices often make that unrealistic.

If your just picking a date and hoping try to go as close to a new moon as possible the less light pollution the easier they will be to see.

Having a car certainly helps so you can pick where you want to go for scenery and or because you need to escape weather. It also gives you the option to stay out all night (make sure you have suitable supplies).

A lot of tour sites said the northern lights in Norway peak between 6pm and midnight - he told us this was not true (first time we saw them was 3am) .

If its cloudy keep driving into the wind (if you can) until you can see stars. Stop. Wait (we drove halfway to Russia). Also local weather maps should show cloud cover and projections for the next 24 hours.

The northern lights aren't always in the north, this I knew but a lot of people don't seem to.

If you're photographing them with a DSLR, your camera will likely pick them up before your eye does (If you want further information ask question on photographing the northern light).

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Also id like to point out Norway isn't cheap, i could have gone to Iceland for 8nights for the same price as 4 in Norway. –  Stuart Sep 13 '12 at 17:34
    
Nice notes. I'd suggest if someone asks a question on photographing, it should probably go on photography.se though. –  Mark Mayo Sep 13 '12 at 20:38
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fair point about photography.se –  Stuart Sep 13 '12 at 20:54
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There's a new article on CNN Travel today:

5 places to see the brightest Aurora displays: There's still a chance to catch the most magnificent Northern Lights in years

It cites Tromsø, Norway, Yellowknife, Canada, Fairbanks, Alaska, United States, Kangerlussuaq, Greenland and (cough) the Southern Hemisphere.

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I read this as well, but it completely leaves out Iceland which I find hard to believe as Iceland is more accessible than Greenland. –  Mark Hosang Mar 15 '12 at 7:46
    
More accessible doesn't make it better - New York is more accessible as well, but the odds are decidedly less ;) But I take your point - I think their 'Southern Hemisphere' option was ludicrous. –  Mark Mayo Mar 15 '12 at 7:57
    
I saw another CNN article about this today (which is why I'm here on this question now :-) ). Now I'm wondering if it would be totally crazy to go at the end of next month (when my and my husband's employers both push people to take time off anyway). –  Monica Cellio Nov 21 '13 at 18:04
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I recently did a volunteering project in Iceland and I would say that the highest chance to see Aurora Borealis would be at Westfjords, Iceland (Mostly in winter and sometimes in Fall/Autumn or Spring).

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any reason why you say it has the highest chance? Anecdotal, or do you have a reference for this? –  Mark Mayo Jan 10 '12 at 22:49
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Mark, it's anecdotal. When I did that volunteering project, I interacted with good number of Icelandic people and a few volunteers who were based at Westfjords, who told me that there's a high chance of seeing Aurora Borealis, at Westfjords. Also, Iceland is latitudinally more closer to the North Pole, than Finland or Sweden or Most parts of Norway (South). –  bchetty Jan 10 '12 at 23:05
    
Cool, thanks! Often locals' knowledge is the best! –  Mark Mayo Jan 10 '12 at 23:13
    
Also, I recently came across this article on BBC about some guy and his company: Aurora Hunters, who help you in chasing Aurora Borealis. –  bchetty Jan 10 '12 at 23:24
    
@bchetty While for the most part closer to the northpole does matter, what matters most is where the earth's magnetic field falls since this is where the aurora event occurs. The magnetic field is not a perfect circle but is close. check out the link below for the map of magnetic fielcs upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c7/WMM2010_F_MERC.pdf –  Mark Hosang Jan 13 '12 at 2:35
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My friends, boyfriend and I are talking about going to Yellowknife, Canada. My friend's boyfriend has been there and said it was amazing.

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I also heard about Churchill, Manitoba, in Canada. It is a very remote area, accessible mostly by train and probably plane, but apparently (according to a guidebook) there are auroras 200 days a year (so by avoiding the summer you're likely to see one). For information, the touristic period is in october because of polar bears watching possibilities. –  Vince Sep 13 '12 at 8:19
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I was in Iceland for a weekend in March and although we did see the Northern Lights, they were quite dim and not that spectacular. The guide did say that only a few days earlier they had a really good one. Wherever you go, try to allow a number of nights to get out and see them as you may not get lucky on your first try.

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do you happen to remember what intensity the aurora was? There seems to be a scale of 1-10 that is used –  Mark Hosang Jan 13 '12 at 2:35
    
Nope sorry. It really wasn't very bright. –  Jason Duffett Mar 1 '12 at 20:30
    
If they're dim, you can whistle to bring them closer. fortsmith.ca/cms/attractions/aurora-borealis-northern-lights But don't overdo it or you might breathe them, and die ece.gov.nt.ca/Divisions/kindergarten_g12/curriculum/… –  Kate Gregory Sep 12 '12 at 12:10
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