Alaska Stories and Tips

Northern Lights - Dancing in the Sky

Aurora Borealis Photo, Alaska, United States

One of the things I wanted to do while in Fairbanks was see the Northern Lights. I thought it wasn't going to happen, because I read more trip reports of people not seeing them at all or just barely seeing green bands than I do of people seeing them. Apparently, the last few years the solar activity has been low.

It's not something you can really plan around. Weather on the sun is like weather on earth, unpredictable that far in advance, so I planned my trip and hoped for the best. A few weeks before my trip, I saw reports of a possible storm that would reach earth around the time I was going. Yes!

The storm happened. It was early according to the reports, so it wouldn't be affecting the skies when I was there. Maybe some residuals 2 kp lights would be all that was left. I guess a 2 is better than nothing, right? I was a little disappointed, but what can you do?

The morning we left for Anchorage, I got another update. Apparently another storm on the sun was happening and the activity of it (which was supposed to be "storm level") would reach the earth on 3 of the days we'd be there. Pay dirt! Now, just to find a place to view them.

We were staying at Pike's Waterfront Lodge in Fairbanks (just outside of town), and the hotel assured me that you could see the lights from the decks in the rooms and they would give us an aurora wake-up call. I didn't buy it. I made plans to drive out to the Ester bowl which is about 30-40 minutes away. The aurora can come and go in 20 minutes, so that takes planning ahead. The second night we were there was supposed to be kp 2 and the hotel did give us a wake up call. I couldn't see anything from the parking lot or deck, but I headed to the Ester bowl anyway.

We saw some faint bands of green, but it was on the wrong side of the road (opposite our vantage point). Disappointed and tired (it was 2 a.m.) we headed home and decided to ignore the hotel from now on.

The next night we had dinner some friends who are Fairbanks residents and they told us that the Ester bowl, contrary to what I read, wasn't the best place to go. They took us out toward Fox and showed us a place that was flat on both sides. The amazing part was it was 9 p.m. and the lights were already brighter than the night before. We decided to go get some gas, cocoa and treats and watch the light show.

Photos can't express how amazing the Northern Lights are. You hear about them dancing and moving, but seeing it in person is really neat. They undulate and move across the sky, changing color, intensity and width and feathering out. Then, as suddenly as they've came, they're gone. It's really neat.

We stayed a long time, but ended up leaving when someone started taking 100 flash photos a minute, ruining ours in the process. Someone asked her not to use it, but she said her photos were great. We all rolled our eyes and just watched for a little bit and then took off. We came back the next night for a similar scene.

Some advice: even when the lights were "storm level 5" according to predictions, you could barely see them from the hotel. We could see them even from the Ice Championships, but they were very faint bands, similar to what was at the hotel. You really need to get away from city light pollution. I guess hotel staff is right. You can see them, but you're not going to get a good show.

Fox is also the best place in Fairbanks to see the pipeline. There's a pipeline visitor's center there.

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