The northern skies are spectacular with their millions of sparkling stars. Due to the small population of the Yukon, light pollution is at a minimum and with just a short drive from villages and towns, one can admire not only the stars, but also another stunning phenomenon: the northern lights. Seeing the northern lights dance in the sky is high on the bucket list of many Yukon visitors. After all, they have dazzled and fascinated people for millennia.
Spirits or charged particles?
While you should take time to simply gaze at this spectacular light show in wonder, the mythology and science behind this natural phenomenon is also worth noting.
Canada’s First Nations have many legends and myths about the dazzling light show. In some of these stories, the northern lights are portrayed as a positive omen that brings joy to the viewer. Other stories, however, call for caution. It is believed that if you whistle at the northern lights, they will start dancing. But be careful! According to some legends, the northern lights are lonely spirits and attracting their attention could prompt them to come and get you. Furthermore, the Inuit have a legend that explains the crackling sound that some people hear when the aurora is visible. In the story, the Inuit are playing a game where a walrus skull is kicked around. The crackling sound comes from them running across the frozen snow.
Myth is one thing, but what about the science? Simply put, the northern lights, which are also called Aurora Borealis, are caused by charged particles from the sun that collide with the Earth’s atmosphere. These particles are then redirected by the Earth’s magnetic field to the poles where the deposited energy results in the colourful curtains, rays and spirals that we witness and admire.
Whether you are a believer in the legends or you prefer the scientific explanation, here are some practical tips to consider when you’re planning your Aurora viewing experience.
A guide for a successful and enjoyable Aurora viewing experience
The season to see the northern lights in Canada’s North runs from mid-August until mid-April. When you plan your night out, look for places with an open view to the north so that you don’t miss out on displays that are showing lower in the sky. Check the aurora forecast and moon phase. The key for a successful viewing experience is a dark, clear night. The moon, especially a full moon, will interfere the natural light show, and clouds will obscure the auroras. Apart from the location and the timing, you and your equipment also need to be carefully prepared.
- Remember that you are chasing a natural phenomenon that doesn’t always happen. Patience is the key to success. Yukon’s nights are long and the light show can start at any moment. Don’t give up after an hour of waiting. Nature and wonders happen at their own time.
- Dress to impress? Not in the Yukon! Yukon nights are cold and the only way to enjoy your Aurora viewing experience is by wearing clothing that is appropriate for the weather (see blog post 10 things you need on a Yukon trip). Dress in layers and rent warm clothes if you don’t have the right gear. It is acceptable to look like a Michelin-man during your Yukon winter adventure!
- Know your camera settings and test your camera beforehand. You don’t want to be fiddling around in freezing cold temperatures. Be aware that not every camera is suitable to capture the northern lights. You also need a tripod and spare batteries since the cold temperatures will drain them quickly. Read up about night photography or leave the picture taking task in the hands of your tour guide.
Shall I go alone or join a tour company?
While it is certainly possible to go out on your own and experience the light show, it is advantageous to join a group and leave the organization of your bucket list experience in the hands of an experienced guide. Your guide will bring you to established places and can help you set up your camera. Waiting for the appearance of the northern lights can be a lengthy affair. Therefore, the company of your fellow visitors combined with your guide’s stories of Yukon life will make your experience more enjoyable and memorable. You can even get creative a join a Northern Light Snowmobile Adventure! In any case, you will most likely create memories that will last a lifetime!
- Aurora forecast:
- Packing list:
- Further explanations of the northern lights:
- Legends of the northern lights