It is one of the most awesome sights in nature, but it takes a lot of suffering and luck to see it.
I have been lucky enough to see the Aurora Borealis, or northern lights, several times in Alaska, but in general, watching the lights is less about awe and more about suffering, frustration and failure.
In order to see the northern lights, the conditions must be perfect. It has to be clear, cold, dark and there must be solar activity since the phenomenon is a result of charged particles from the sun striking the Earth’s atmosphere. I’ve spent many nights suffering in extreme cold, camera mounted on tripod, looking expectantly to the north as hungry animals stirred around me, waiting to see the phenomenon – and coming away with nothing but star track photos, frostbite and a sleepless night.
Those boring nights waiting around for nothing did give me time to come up with these aurora viewing principles:
The Immutable Laws of Aurora Borealis Viewing
1. When it is cold and dark and there are solar flares, it is cloudy.
2. When it is clear, cold and dark, there is no solar activity.
3. Nights with an aurora forecast of ACTIVE OR EXTREME result in a dud so you stay up all night for nothing.
4. Nights with an aurora forecast of LOW or MODERATE result in dazzling displays of light but you miss it since you are sleeping.
5. When alone in the wilderness waiting for the lights, wild animals (presumably wolves, bears, porcupines and the vicious arctic hare) will be stirring all around making you nervous and afraid and wishing you were with people.
6. When watching the lights near a group of people, they will be trying to take photos with flash, talking incessantly, kissing loudly, getting drunk (and not sharing) and making you wish you were alone in the woods.
7. If the lights start to come out and you call your friends, the lights immediately go away and all your friends hate you for waking them up.
8. If the lights come out and you don’t call your friends, all your friends hate you the next day for not calling.
9. The coldest, most bitter of nights are reserved for northern light teasing, where the lights act as if they will come out and taunt you with a little taste, tempting you to stay up all night in hopes for something awesome, but end up giving you nothing, which is also a summary of my dating life before I was married.
10. When committing to staying up late to see the lights your boss will have a pile of projects for you next day that will require concentration you don’t have since you didn’t sleep.
11. If you go to sleep and don’t watch the lights, it will be an incredible light show and no one will bother to call or text to let you know but everyone will rave about it at work the next day. Plus, everyone will be tired, sleepy and unproductive so you have to pick up the slack since no one slept the night before.
12. When you wake up to pee at night and look outside, you will catch the aurora in a lull of activity and go back to bed, even though just prior to and just after you looked outside the aurora was spectacular.
13. When you wake up to pee at night and look outside and see aurora activity, by the time you get dressed it will be gone.
14. All the hot chocolate will be gone when you get home.
15. When you get a nice night of Aurora it will be a full moon and thus diminish your photography.
16. When everything is perfect and the lights come out in full force creating a dazzling display overhead, you won’t have your camera.
Have you ever seen the Northern Lights?
What have you suffered for?
Nick, I’m still pissed at you for not calling me last week when all of you stayed up and watched the lights. Jerk.