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See the light

With NASA declaring the Northern Lights this month to be the best in a decade, planning a trip to see the phenomenon may not be such a bad idea.

travel Updated: Dec 08, 2013 16:51 IST
Sneha Mahale

While blue, black and grey may be the colours of the season in Mumbai, there are places across the globe that have skies with hues of red, green or even violet. Known to attract visitors by the millions, the phenomenon is popularly known as the Northern Lights or Auroras.

However, this year is a tad more special. NASA, one of the world’s premiere space agencies, has predicted that the Northern Lights of 2013 will be the best in a decade. On an official NASA video, Todd Hoeksema, the director of the Wilcox Solar Observatory at Stanford University, said that by December there should be what is termed a “solar flip” — a “complete field reversal” of the sun’s polar magnetic fields. And this should make the marvel even more marvellous.

“The Northern Lights is a spectacular natural phenomenon and with increasing travel awareness and aspirational quality attached to
holidays, we are witnessing queries on how to view this light show,” says Mohit Gupta, chief business officer-holidays, MakeMyTrip. Vikram Malhi, the spokesperson for Expedia, adds that the evolved Indian consumer is looking forward to niche destinations. And it is this segment of travellers that is showing their interest in aurora destinations.

Also, auroral activity is cyclic, peaking roughly every 11 years. “The current peak period is 2013 and thus, this year’s demand is even better. In the past two years, there has been a growth of 100 per cent in this segment, owing to the fact that it has been leading to this peak activity year,” he says.

Incidentally, though the Northern Lights is more popular with travellers thronging to countries in the Northern Hemisphere to see them, they also occur in the south, where they are known as the aurora australis. However, since it are concentrated around Antarctica and the Indian Ocean in the Southern Hemisphere, it isn’t as well known. And though the activity tends to peak in December, one can visit these places till March to see the skies lit up.

“For travellers interested in this rare natural phenomenon, there are packages to destinations such as Canada, the UK and the Scandinavian countries. As this time of the year is apt to witness the Northern Lights, we are seeing a growth in bookings to these destinations,” says Sharat Dhall, president,, adding that the auroras can be viewed from the United Kingdom and Alaska in North America. “Witnessing the Northern Lights is a niche experience. This is a holiday chosen by the well-heeled traveller,” says Karan Anand, head-relationships, Cox & Kings.

Sky high
The bright dancing lights of the aurora are actually collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth's atmosphere.

They are seen above the magnetic poles of the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. They are known as 'aurora borealis' in the north and 'aurora australis' in the south.

Auroral displays appear in many colours although pale green and pink are the most common. Shades of red, yellow, green, blue, and violet have been reported.

-Source: Northern Lights Centre

What’s special this year?
Researchers have discovered that auroral activity is cyclic, peaking roughly every 11 years. This year marks a peak period. Winter in the north is generally a good season to view lights. The long periods of darkness and the frequency of clear nights provide many good opportunities to watch the auroral displays. Usually the best time of the night to watch it is midnight.

The best places to watch the lights (in North America) are in the northwestern parts of Canada, particularly the Yukon, Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Alaska. Auroral displays can also be seen over the southern tip of Greenland and Iceland, the northern coast of Norway and over the coastal waters north of Siberia. Southern auroras are not often seen as they are concentrated in a ring around Antarctica and the southern Indian Ocean.

-Source: Northern Lights Centre

Plan a trip to the auroras
Some packages to consider:
Bergen-Kirkenes-Bergen (Norway): The 12-day trip from Cox and Kings costs
EUR 1,428 (Rs 1,20,239 approx) per person on twin-sharing basis.
Northwest Canada: A four or five-day trip will cost around Rs 1,25,000 per person, according to
Alaska: An eight-day trip by Trafalgar could set you back by USD 2395 (Rs 1,47,532 approx).