Yellowknife, Canada, is a go-to destination for the northern lights,...

Yellowknife, Canada, is a go-to destination for the northern lights, but visitors should be dressed to face below-freezing temperatures. Credit: Getty Images/wanderluster

For anyone who’s dreamed of seeing the northern lights — now’s the time to go for it.

Dave Bush, director of the Vanderbilt Museum’s Reichert Planetarium in Centerport, expects the lights, also known as the aurora borealis, to be exceptional for the next two years.

The northern lights are the result of solar activity that causes electrically charged particles to interact with Earth’s magnetic field, often creating colorful curtains of light that glide through the night sky in shades of green, blue, pink, magenta and white.

“Solar activity is definitely increasing,” said Bush. “The sun’s magnetic field changes polarity every 11 years and is marked by a steady increase in these solar events, which sometimes result in beautiful displays of aurora.” The peak of solar activity is called a solar maximum, and 2024-25 represents this peak.

George Preoteasa, a former meteorologist and active member of the Astronomical Society of Long Island, said he has witnessed the northern lights firsthand in Yellowknife, Canada, dubbed the “northern lights capital of North America.”

He advises fellow travelers to be prepared for the elements, as Yellowknife is about 250 miles south of the Arctic Circle.

“I did some research and I knew that it was going to be cold — really cold — so I arranged for warm clothing rental,” he said. “It’s a real shock when you go out at -25 degrees Fahrenheit (real temperature, not windchill). But you dress well and get used to it and it’s somehow exhilarating.”

Preoteasa, who booked a guided tour, recommends going with someone who knows where and when to look for the aurora, at least for the first visit. “The operators know the good places and can make adjustments for weather; they ‘chase’ the better skies,” he said. “We were very lucky to see the aurora on all three nights we were there.”

But he added, “With what I know now about the locations I visited, I could have rented a car and gone by myself. Of course, you have to be prudent. Getting lost and running out of gas at that temperature is very dangerous.”

Yellowknife is also on Bush’s personal bucket list. “It’s above the tree line, you have full view of the sky horizon to horizon,” he said. “I’ve heard it’s one of the most spectacular places to see the northern lights.”

WHERE TO GO

In addition to Yellowknife, there are several places in North America to view the aurora borealis, including:

  • Whitehorse, Canada
  • Malletts Bay on Lake Champlain, Vermont
  • The Adirondacks, upstate New York
  • Acadia National Park, Maine
  • Mount Washington, New Hampshire

WHEN TO GO

The best time of year to view the northern lights is around March 21 (vernal equinox) or Sept. 21 (autumnal equinox). A moonless, clear night, between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., is ideal for viewing.

WHAT TO WEAR

Given the season and viewing locales, it will be cold. Thermal underwear, a protective outer layer for wind and rain, two pairs of socks, a facial covering, mittens and water-resistant, lined boots are recommended.

WHAT TO BRING

You can actually see the northern lights with the naked eye — there’s no need for telescopes or even binoculars. A phone camera is sufficient to capture the spectacle. A gravity or lounge chair would enhance the experience and provide comfort.

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