Where Do You See the Northern Lights?


Under normal circumstances, the northern lights occur in a narrow band around 10 to 20 degrees of latitude from the North Pole. In North America, this restricts their range to parts of Alaska, northwest Canada and Greenland. In Europe, Norway and parts of Siberia also experience the northern lights on occasion. However, changes in the Earth's geomagnetic field and solar activity can alter the range and activity of the aurorae.

Whenever the sun issues flares or coronal mass ejections, the charged particles can trigger geomagnetic storms on Earth. This increased flux in the Earth's magnetic field can increase the intensity and range of both the northern and southern lights substantially. In 2011, a solar storm pushed the northern lights as far south as Arkansas and Mississippi and created vibrantly colored displays in the atmosphere all over the northern states. The most intense auroral display on record as of 2014 occurred in 1859, when the auroral energy was so intense that telegraph operators were able to use it as a power source. Even with their batteries disconnected from the telegraph lines, these operators could communicate over great distances using the natural energy from the aurora.

The southern lights occur in a similarly narrow band, which restricts their viewing to parts of Antarctica and the southern tip of South America.