The aurora borealis, also known as the Alaska northern lights, is one of the major attractions that make our northernmost state a popular travel destination. However, if you wish to see them during your trip, you need to plan it carefully. Although the beautifully colored aurora borealis is active throughout the year, the lights can only be seen when the Alaska night sky is dark enough. Although, this usually happens between late August and early April, it may be different in specific regions of the state. Anyone planning aurora borealis vacations should research the particular area they will be visiting in order to determine the best time to see the magnificent phenomenon.
The Alaska northern lights (also visible in places like Norway, Greenland, and northern Canada) was named in 1621 after the Roman goddess of dawn (Aurora) and the Greek word for the north wind (Boreas). An Eskimo tale tells us that the lights are sprits in the sky playing catch with a walrus skull. Another legend describes the lights as flaming torches carried by travelers to the afterlife. The Sami people of Norway have a name for them that means "the light that can be heard." The Vikings believed they were light reflected off the armor of Valkyrie warrior virgins. Stll the phenomenon of the aurora borealis is not completely understood.
On a more scientific level, it was once thought that the aurora borealis was produced by sunlight reflected from polar snow and ice, or refracted light similar to the light that produces rainbows. However, the more recent research suggests that the aurora is caused by radiation, which is emitted as light from atoms in the upper atmosphere as they are hit by swiftly moving electrons and protons. The type of atom determines the color. The sun also seems to have an influence since the northern lights become brighter, more distinctive, and widespread following two days of intense sunshine.
So, what is so special about the Alaska northern lights that people go out of their way to plan specific aurora borealis vacations? Imagine this. You look up and see the undulating, multi-colored ribbons and curtains of light dance across the sky. They display visual patterns far more intricate than the most talented artist could create. People take trips specifically to witness these miracles of nature - often during the winter when the weather is not the best. But there other winter things to do, including dogsledding (the famous Iditarod is held in the winter) and skiing in supremely pristine landscapes.
In order to best appreciate the aurora borealis, many people decide to take guided tours that visit the aurora borealis locations where the lights are most likely to be viewed. This is advisable if you are truly keen on seeing this marvelous phenomenon. A knowledgeable guide can tell you the best times and locations for viewing the aurora borealis. Some tours have specific themes, such as photography, and others are combined with winter sports.
There are highly recommended tours led by Dave Parkhurst, a world-renowned northern lights photographer. His tours usually travel from Anchorage to Talkeetna. If you want to combine your northern lights viewing with a wider variety of winter sports, you may want to consider a visit to Canada's Yukon Territory. Whatever type of aurora borealis trip you decide to take, expect to be totally amazed!