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Travel Here’s how to see auroras—from the Great Lakes

13:44  04 august  2020
13:44  04 august  2020 Source:   nationalgeographic.com

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The great red aurora of February 1958—perhaps the most extraordinary of the century—had just occurred. Our understanding of auroras comes in huge measure from linking insights gained through manned space missions to data and images from satellites, rockets Here ' s how to watch.

Depiction of the northern auroral oval from the Ovation site on July 15, 2013. Credit: Bob King. To summarize then, here ’ s my typical auroral forecasting routine: 1. Check the NOAA space weather forecast. If conditions call for a “minor storm” or better, I know auroras are possible for my location.

Think you have to travel to Finland or Norway to see the northern lights? Think again. The upper Midwest, from northern Minnesota to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and beyond, offers glimpses of the ethereal scene. In northern Minnesota’s Rainy Lake area—gateway to Voyageurs National Park—as many as 200 aurora episodes are visible each year, weather permitting.

a large body of water: Aurora borealis lights up the skies above Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on Lake Superior. © Photograph by Nick Irwin

Aurora borealis lights up the skies above Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on Lake Superior.

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First, an explainer: Earth’s magnetic field is weaker above and around the poles, across a stretch known as the auroral oval. Along the curved edges, charged particles released from the sun’s solar flares enter Earth’s atmosphere and collide with oxygen and nitrogen, sparking a breathtaking view. Even though the magic happens far to the north, on some occasions the auroral oval can be seen as far south as Cleveland and Chicago.

a sunset over a body of water: The comet NEOWISE shares the sky with colorful auroras over Little Sable Point Light in Mears, Michigan. © Photograph by Nick Irwin

The comet NEOWISE shares the sky with colorful auroras over Little Sable Point Light in Mears, Michigan.

“It’s harder to see them farther south, but when you have your spot and the conditions are right, why not try?” says Jim Thomas, who first witnessed the light show in Wisconsin some two decades ago; he later became a leading Midwest northern lights expert and editor of aurora-hunting website Soft Serve News.

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SWPC aurora forecasts from March 27 to March 31, 2017. Note how that the times on the left are in Exactly how bright and strong the auroras show up will depend on how far south they extend, and Other colours are usually more difficult to see with the unaided eye. Here ' s what some people have

Here are a few great spots to see the northern lights in Norway. Aside from the landscape, the real beauty of Abisko is how the peaks of the mountains surrounding Abisko National Park According to Aurora Zone blogger and photographer, Markku Inkila, aurora hunters who head to the the Paatsjoki

Due to the Midwest’s exceptionally long northern lights season, summer-night darkness means you can start chasing the spectacle in August (and often earlier). Aurora hunters have already reported summer 2020 aurora successes, including a late-June sighting at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and multiple July sightings in the area as well.

Improve your odds

Increasing your aurora luck starts with understanding peak conditions. Thomas recommends waiting for a clear night; clouds muddy the sky and can obscure the auroras. Darkness is also key. Nights around the new moon are better than bright full-moon nights.

But dark, cloudless skies don’t guarantee a sighting. One of the most important factors is aurora strength, measured via Kp-index (an indicator of geomagnetic activity). The Kp range is zero to nine, with zero being weak and nine being a full-on geomagnetic storm—the number aurora hunters fantasize about. Thomas recommends keeping an eye on not just the Kp number, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Ovation map; this tool helps you determine whether or not the storm will be visible from your area.

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Storm tracking is particularly important for those hunting the lights in 2020. The sun follows an 11-year cycle of activity and is currently in solar minimum, the lowest activity level.

“It’s a numbers and luck game,” Thomas says. “It’s not something like the Grand Canyon that’s always going to be there. The aurora may or may not show up. You have to keep up with the forecasts, grind it out, and go through some disappointments before you see them.”

(Related: Here are seven magical places around the world to view auroras.)

Where to go in the Midwest

Whether it’s Lapland or the Great Lakes, successful aurora hunting requires a dark sky with limited light pollution. Maps such as Dark Site Finder come in handy when scouting ideal spots, or you can rely on certifiably dark destinations like Headlands International Dark Sky Park, located on the Straits of Mackinac, which separate Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas. This International Dark Sky Park, a designation earned through rigorous light-pollution testing, is granted to public or private lands with an exceptional starry sky and nocturnal environments.

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Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, Lake Huron, Lake Michigan and Lake Superior make up the greatest area of freshwater in the world. The Great Lakes have contributed very much to the economic development of the United States and melting water = here : water that came from a glacier after the Ice Age.

( Auroras are seen there, on average, only once in a thousand nights.) I’ll close here with a quote by the late solar observer, Herbert Luft. Herb kept tabs on the sun for nearly 70 years, starting as a young man in pre-war Germany, then on to South America and finally to the United States where he and his

The U.S.’s Voyageurs National Park, on the border with Canada, puts on quite a show, with lights reflecting across the park’s 30 lakes. Farther east, beneath remote skies with low light pollution in Cook County, Minnesota, aurora-view backpacking trails and road-trip routes abound.

Wisconsin’s prime attraction, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, is the state’s northernmost point—which makes this cluster of 20 forested islands perfect for spotting the northern lights. And Michigan’s wild and rugged Upper Peninsula, including Copper Harbor, Marquette, and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, is ideal with its near-total darkness.

(Related: These are the world’s best stargazing spots.)

But northern lights opportunities in the lower 48 states don’t stop there. If conditions are right, auroras can dance above most states along the northern U.S. border. Some of the best spots include Acadia National Park in Maine, Glacier National Park in Montana, and Mount Washington Valley in New Hampshire. Of course, the higher the latitude, the better the aurora chances—that’s why avid northern lights hunters frequent spots like Fairbanks, Alaska, a popular aurora destination just 200 miles from the Arctic Circle.

Looking for additional insight on how to chase nature’s light show? The Great Lakes Aurora Hunters, a 56,000-member Facebook community with a focus on Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin, shares everything from viewing locations and night-sky camera settings to aurora alerts and hunting encouragement.

Stephanie Vermillion is a travel and outdoors journalist, filmmaker, and photographer. Follow her adventures on Twitter and Instagram.

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