Aurora Borealis In Alaska

Photo taken September 2021 in Fairbanks, Alaska

Also known as the Northern Lights, aurora borealis is on many people’s bucket list. Mine included. Recently, I went to Fairbanks, Alaska and played aurora chaser. First,  what is Aurora Borealis? According to the National Weather Service, they “are the result of interactions between the Sun and Earth’s outer atmosphere.”

Or as I learned at the Museum of the North in University of Alaska at Fairbanks (UAMN), the Northern Lights are caused by these three elements: 1) solar wind, 2) Earth magnetic fields, and 3) Earth atmosphere.

Using painting analogies, the Earth atmosphere serves as the canvas, the solar wind as the paint, and 3) the Earth magnetic field as the paint brush. The electrons in the solar wind while following the path of the Earth magnetic field they get heated up and glow (like a neon light). The result cast high above the sky (60-80 miles) produces a natural brilliance that have the locals believed they were the spirit of the caribous.

The picture above was taken around mid-night. The temperature was 27 degree Fahrenheit. It was so cold, I had to keep the engine running, and jumping in and out of the car just to stay warm while waiting and searching for the Northern Lights.

The term Aurora Chaser comes from the fact that the visibility of the Aurora is not guaranteed. Two other criteria are required: dark night (i.e. no light pollution) and clear sky. One night, it was cloudy, and even with the forecast of high aurora activities, we could not see the aurora after trying several locations.

What’s on your bucket list?

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