The seven wonders of the natural world do not all have to be on the ground, or even be physical structures that can be touched and the Aurora Borealis is the perfect example of that.
These lights that occur mainly in the northern hemisphere of planet Earth (hence their alternative name ‘the northern lights’) but also occasionally in the southern hemisphere too are such an unusual display of nature that they remained a scientific phenomenon until very recently. They can appear as flowing, moving waves of light (known as Quity Arces), thin strips of light (Diffuse Patches) or sheets of glowing light (Raide Arces) and they glow green, blue, red and yellow.
The aurora occurs solely in the sky and mainly in areas closest to the northern closest to the northern magnetic pole (currently located in Canada). They appear most during September and October, and then again in March and April although they do not appear every night and many people’s expeditions to see them prove unfruitful. Perhaps it is their elusiveness and unpredictability that makes them such an appealing one of the seven wonders of the natural world, but their natural beauty is, of course, the main attraction.
The northern hemisphere is a hostile, arctic environment. Despite this, many keen photographers take trips out there in an effort to capture the lights on film. Many also take video cameras to capture a time lapse recording of the lights, as they move slowly but in beautiful patterns.
The aurora has most likely been around for many thousands of millions of years, even before the most basic life forms began, yet we still have the knowledge of how they are created. It wasn’t until around 1741 that the link between the magnetic poles and the northern lights was discovered, and up until 2008 the mysteries behind their formation have been slowly unraveling.
Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis (southern lights) are formed when particles from the sun – also known as ‘solar wind’ – hit the earth’s atmosphere. They are charged highly with energy which is lost when they collide with other atoms, or when they emit a photon of light; a process which results in the lights that we see. Solar wind particles always occur in parallel with the earth’s magnetic field, which is why we often see them as ribbons or waves of light moving in a certain direction.
Their individual color depends entirely on the make up of the emission that the solar wind molecule gives off. Green and maroon colored aurora occur when the molecules emit oxygen, whereas blue lights occur when nitrogen is given off. Red lights can indicate either oxygen or nitrogen.
How to Get There:
The Aurora Borealis is not just found in one city or even country in the world, so it is up to you to choose where you would like to see them. Reykjavik in Iceland is a wonderful place to see the northern lights, as are many areas of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Finland, Norway and Sweden. Each of these countries have main airports which are easily flown to, although if you are aiming for the magnetic pole then you will need to consult an arctic expert for advice on the necessary hiking gear, tents and/or vehicles to get you there.
Where to Stay:
For anyone who isn’t a professional arctic explorer or at least vaguely familiar with what’s required of this type of trip, it’s best to stay in one of the hotels in a more populated and interesting place in the northern hemisphere such as Reykjavik in Iceland, Lulea in Sweden or Rovaniemi in Finland.
The advantage with staying in a place that’s more populated and metropolitan than somewhere nearer the north pole is that there are other things to visit during the daytime when the Aurora cannot be seen. Also, you will be able to stay comfortably in these places for days on end, making your chance of seeing the northern lights higher.