Where do you find the northern lights?

This is a question I hear all the time; Where do you go to see the northern lights? However, this question is not as easy to answer as you might think.


Visible in the lower right corner is the building I currently live in. This picture was taken about 7 years ago, from the other side of the street, right here in town.


Depending on where you live in Canada or the rest of the world, most of us are not fortunate enough to see these displays on a regular basis. When I lived in Nova Scotia I just took it for granted that I would not be one of those people who got to witness the phenomena. I knew that you had to be pretty far north to see them. Well, that is and isn't true, especially today.


Living north of the 55th parallel nearly guarantees that you'll see a northern lights display eventually. Most often when I am planning a hunt it starts a few miles away from the city lights, so I can be in the darkest area possible, but this doesn't always have to be the case. I have seen amazing displays right here in town, even above my own apartment building. I have lived in 4 different apartments since moving here and I have seen the northern lights dance above each roof that I lived beneath at least once.

You still need the right conditions, like heightened solar activity and of course, a clear night sky, preferably to the north, but if those elements are present, it's possible. In fact, sometimes even when you can't see them with the naked eye, you can still capture them as long as you have a DSLR camera, or these days, many cell phones are also capable of capturing the northern lights if they have the right settings. I've been taking photos of them long enough now that I can sometimes see even just a wisp of them. Sometimes it's just a bit of cloud, but If they show up with a green hue after the camera does its thing, it's northern lights.


This was the case just the other night when we took a new Thompson resident out to a tried and true location to see if we could find any northern light activity. I'm always very enthusiastic when it comes to introducing others to these amazing dancing displays. I could see them, very faintly on the horizon in a clearing, but wasn't 100% sure until I took a picture with my camera and verified that the wisps were green and therefore not just clouds but the northern lights! Unfortunately, they weren't very active so we never really got to see much dancing, but they were there for sure.


So, the general rule of thumb for seeing the northern lights can be put in pretty basic terms: go north, and find the clearest dark sky you can. A clearing can work in your favour if they are low on the horizon, a lake, river, stream or even a puddle can provide amazing reflection shots, but nothing is ever certain. Depending on the conditions, they can sometimes be on the opposite side than you are used to, or they can be all over the sky above your head, and you can even see them at their brightest and most active above the rooftops in a well-lit town or city, especially with the forecasted heightened activity we are supposed to see in the next several years. Even if you are not IN the north, the chances are going to be higher than usual. After the last big solar storm, I saw pictures of the northern lights that were taken in my home province of Nova Scotia, so it's very possible that even places further south will get the opportunity to see these amazing shows, just keep looking to the sky.

Those light green bands out there will look like some light clouds to inexperienced eyes. This is when a camera comes in handy since it can see more than the human eye.


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