What is the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights?
The beautiful blaze of the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, is caused when material thrown off the surface of the sun collides with the atmosphere of the Earth. Think of the sun as the father of the northern lights. It gives off high-energy charged particles that travel out into space.
A cloud of such particles is called plasma. The stream of plasma coming from the sun is known as the solar wind. As the solar wind interacts with the edge of the earth's magnetic field, some of the particles are trapped by it and they follow the lines of magnetic force down into the ionosphere, the section of the earth's atmosphere that extends from about 60 to 600 kilometers above the earth's surface.
When the particles collide with the gases in the ionosphere they start to glow, producing the spectacle that we know as the auroras, northern and southern. The array of colors consists of red, green, blue and violet. The aurora has a curtain-like shape; the altitude of its lower edges can reach to upwards of sixty miles.
The Northern Lights are constantly in motion because of the changing interaction between the solar wind and the earth's magnetic field. In the northern hemisphere they extend over northern Scandinavia, the whole of Canada, northern USA, Alaska and Siberia. In the case of Alaska, the Earth's rotational axis means the best time for viewing the Northern Lights is late at night until the early morning hours.
On the other hand, it is always worth keeping in mind that a solar storm can appear at any time of the day or night, and hunters of spectacular shows would therefore be well advised to concentrate on following the various types of forecasts and predictions which are published on the Internet.
When is the best time to see the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights?
The aurora is always up there. Sometimes it cannot be seen because of unclear skies or sunlight. The aurora can be seen most frequently between August-May, and dark nights provide better opportunities than light days to view them.
In addition, Fairbanks, Alaska’s very cold weather tends to produce clearer skies. Your best bet is to take a nap before or after dinner and wake up around 10PM. Hang out in the Activity Center with other Aurora chasers and be up until 3AM! For your viewing pleasure, Chena Hot Springs Resort provides a special “aurora wake up call” for guests, since most aurora “shows” are more visible after midnight.
Chena Hot Springs Resort is world renown for being one of the best places on Earth to see the northern lights. It is located under the most active band of northern lights, it is away from the light pollution of city lights, and the skies over Chena are clear more often than those over Fairbanks, just 60 miles away.
When booking your stay at the Resort, it’s best to stay at least three nights to have the best opportunity to see them. Auroral intensity varies from night to night and throughout the night. The best viewing tends to be late evening to early morning hours and a slight tendency for more Auroras in the spring and fall.
Viewing the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis has been listed as one of the "top 100 things to do before you die" by the Travel Channel and in a survey of Japanese, it was listed as one of the top ten things they want to see on Earth, (second only to viewing the Pyramids).
Locals will tell you that one of the best experiences one can have is sitting in the soothing natural hot springs rock lake at Chena Hot Springs Resort and watching the lights dance above your head!
To get an Auroral Forecast from the Geophysical Institute at the UAF click here.
Best opportunities to view the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights at Chena Hot Springs Resort:
Snow Coach Aurora Viewing Tour
The large track vehicle (SUSV) Snow Coach Tour (holds 13 total) departs daily (December 1 through March 31 - snow ground cover permitting) at 10 PM. The 30 minute ride from the Resort (1100 ft.) up to the top of the ridge (2600 ft.) allows for unobstructed views of the northern lights when showing. Once arriving at the top, a party-sized yurt is heated for your comfort and hot beverages such as tea, cider and hot chocolate are served inside. Alaskan “outhouses” are also available for use during the tour. For more information check out Snow Coach Rides on our activities page.
A prow-front heated log cabin with large plate-glass windows facing northeast is open 24 hours per day for guests staying at the resort. It sits high on a hill overlooking the Resort and outdoor rock lake. It is available for weddings and special events and is a short walk from the lodge. It holds up to 20-25 people comfortably.
Special Aurora Wake-Up Calls
If you are staying at the Resort and wish to be awakened when our night staff sees the lights, simply ask for our Special Aurora Wake-Up Call Please be aware, the lights undulate and move very quickly, sometimes by the time you are notified, get dressed and arrive outside, they have often disappeared. It is highly recommended the best way to ensure seeing them, is by taking a late afternoon or early evening nap which allows flexibility in staying up late to watch for them yourself.
REV May 13, 2014 8:15 AM DF