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The powerful displays of the Northern Lights are one of the most spectacular sights in the world, and in the Northwest Territories we have plenty of opportunities to marvel at their fantastic magical presence. It is no surprise their nightly dances can capture the awe of anyone who has the opportunity of seeing them. The NWT has the best Northern Lights in the world, and we have the numbers to back it up! Here are some of them as well as some interesting facts about the Aurora - Here is the Aurora Borealis by the numbers.
The Northwest Territories has 240 nights of active Northern Lights per year, concentrated around two peak seasons for Aurora viewing - the Fall Season from Mid August to the end of September and the longer Winter Season from Mid November to Early April. Whether you’re enjoying the Northern Lights lakeside in September or in a snowy clearing in February, the NWT is the place to witness the best Northern Lights in the world and you are sure to see them during their peak seasons. Combined with a general lack of cloud cover, and wide-open spaces, the night sky is open above the NWT for the Aurora to take center stage in its inspiring displays.
11 Years - While the Aurora is always intense and spectacular in the NWT, Auroral activity actually follows an 11-year cycle for peak activity.
Yellowknife, the Capital of the NWT is located at 62.4540° N. This is right in the Auroral Oval - a concentrated area of Aurora Borealis activity. The Auroral Oval is located relative to magnetic poles and the best latitude to see the northern lights. Most of the Northwest Territories is located in the Auroral Oval so you can enjoy the nightly show in any of the five regions.
50 nights per year - Despite their name, the Northern Lights do not necessarily get more numerous or vibrant the further north you travel. In the high arctic, you’re only likely to experience Aurora 50 nights per year. The Auroral Oval is what contributes to the amazing 240 nights of spectacular Aurora you can experience in the NWT.
1958 - In the year 1958, the Northern Lights were so active, sightings were reported as far south as Mexico City.
We see the colours of the Aurora when charged particles from solar winds hit atoms in the earth's atmosphere. This is what generates different colours as specific elements are activated by the sun. Vibrant red colours come from nitrogen atoms as high as 400 kilometres above the earth! Greens and yellows come from activating oxygen at a height of 80 kilometres, nearly 4 times higher above the ground than commercial planes fly. Not only can the Aurora seem vast across the horizon, and so low that the displays can make you duck your head, they also extend quite high into the atmosphere.
200,000 volts - In an intense magnetic storm, the energetic reaction between solar winds and the polarity of the earth can be measured as high as 200,000 volts! It’s the energy released as the light that creates the spectacular Aurora.
When charged particles are carried on solar winds towards the atmosphere of the earth, they move at an astonishing speed of 3 million kilometres per hour. These particles are constantly travelling across space, meaning the Aurora is sometimes activated during the middle of the day. However, it's only with the right conditions that truly marvellous displays are visible to the human eye. When they approach earth, the particles interact with the magnetic field around the planet and are pulled together into an area called the Auroral Oval - where the most consistent, vibrant, and numerous Northern Lights occur. The Northwest Territories sits directly under the Auroral Oval. On nights when the sky is clear, the capital city of Yellowknife in particular gets an astonishing number of nights of visible Aurora, even more than more northern locations.
24 hours per day - When the Aurora is active, it can technically go on for 24 hours per day. It’s the combination of dark skies, little light interference, and clear skies that make the NWT the best in the world for viewings.
When you are awe-struck by the ethereal sights of the Northern Lights in front of you, you may feel inclined to immortalize your life-changing experience with a photograph. Bring some sort of tripod or stabilizer, and set your shutter to capture light for 5 seconds. Photographing the Aurora is a skill that takes practice, and while many tour operators are skilled at the craft, it can be a fun personal journey to try and capture memorable photographs of your own. Just don’t forget to take the time to enjoy the sight in front of you and remember you’re part of a long history of people who have stared in wonder at the Aurora’s natural magnificence.
1600 - A good place to start with your ISO setting on your Camera.
This is the chance you have to see Aurora over three nights if you are looking at the Northwest Territories’ sky in season.