The otherworldly aurora borealis is a transformational experience witnessed only in select destinations around the world.

By Samantha Hunter
February 12, 2020
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It's absolutely breathtaking to see the night sky all lit up and illuminated, whether it's by way of the elaborate display of fireworks on the Fourth of July or a remote outdoor space for stargazing. Mother Nature, however, offers her very own spectacle that many will make the pilgrimage to take in firsthand: the northern lights. This natural phenomenon, otherwise known as the aurora borealis, is a fleeting sight to behold.

Some have referred to the northern lights (which occur in the northern hemisphere and are complementary to its counterpart, the southern lights) as a celestial ballet; however you describe it, there's no denying that it's absolutely breathtaking and beautiful. Think of it as a downpour of charged particles (mostly protons and electrons) into the Earth's upper atmosphere. Galileo coined the term in 1619, calling upon the name of the Roman goddess Aurora, who mythically traveled the ends of the earth (east to west) announcing the sun's arrival or dawning. To see it in person, you'll want to know when and where to go.

Related: These Are the Greatest Natural Wonders in the United States

When to See the Northern Lights

The northern lights are known for their unpredictability, and planning and preparation are key to ensuring that you're able to partake in the popular spectacle. Your best chance for seeing these spectacular sweeps of color is on a clear night in the fall, winter, or early spring seasons—more specifically in the months between late August and early April.

Where to See the Northern Lights

Visibility depends on the weather and other conditions, but location is key. Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Canada, Finland, and Greenland are all notably well-situated for spotting the northern lights. The view gets better as you go farther north. Try these places where it remains dark for practically 24 hours of the day during the winter season: Abisko, Sweden or Tromso, Norway.

To view nature's wondrous light display in the night sky, you must be in high-latitude regions such as the Arctic or Antarctic. Regularity of the light storms, quality, and accessibility all play a role in whether you will truly be able to observe one of nature's most fantastical shows, but choosing just the right location for prime viewing is key. There's still time to see the night sky works and many companies now offer travel packages to make your trek as comfortable and memorable as possible.

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