What does it feel like to see the northern lights dance above you in the remote subarctic? Discover this awe-inspiring feeling for yourself on a trip to Churchill, Manitoba.
What are the northern lights?
The aurora borealis has long been a phenomenon shrouded in mystery and intrigue. As a wonder of the natural world, the northern lights have been the subject of many poems and stories, while Inuit mythology says that the flickering, moving lights are the spirits of the deceased, playing a game of ball using a walrus skull.
There are still several aspects of the aurora borealis that have yet to be explained, but science tells us that the phenomenon is caused by geomagnetic storms that cause solar wind from the sun to move toward the earth. Luckily, our magnetic field protects the planet and in turn, causes a collision of atoms and molecules into the atmosphere. These tiny light sources, protons, then make up the aurora that can be seen with the naked eye in the zone called the "Auroral Oval".
When can you see the northern lights?
Churchill claims to have over 300 nights of aurora activity throughout the year. And while they can be viewed in any season, the the northern lights tend to be most strong and visible during the depths of winter - particularly in February and March when the skies are clear (most precipitation has fallen)) and dark. To see the northern lights, the following criteria must be met:
- Increase in activity and solar storms on the sun
- No cloud cover
- Location in Auroral Oval, or a high KP index
- Absence of the moon and other light sources
So why is Churchill, Manitoba one of the best places to see the lights? Situated just right in the Auroral Oval, the KP index need only be a "1" or higher in order to see the aurora.
How can you view the northern lights in Churchill?
At the Churchill Northern Studies Centre
This operational research station provides an affordable, fully-guided option for those travellers seeking northern lights. Being 30 minutes outside of the town of Churchill, it also provides ideal conditions for viewing the night sky.
When the northern lights come out, the lights in the centre are shut off to prevent any light pollution. There are a few locations for viewing the aurora borealis, from the heated dome at the top of the centre to the outdoor observation deck. Photographers may prefer to shoot from the ground level to get foreground subjects in their photos.