Universal Hello

by Explore Minnesota

As the name suggests, the northern lights become more pronounced the further north you go, and Minnesota's location makes it one of the best states in the lower 48 to view them.

There's a perfectly scientific explanation for the aurora borealis phenomenon (more commonly known as the northern lights), and we'll get to that in a minute. But when you see it in person--weaving, flickering, and pulsing across the night sky, lighting up the stars with its impossible river of greens, purples, and reds--it just feels like magic. Like the universe is reaching out to you, personally, and waving hello.

Northern Lights near the Gunflint Trail
Jackie Scherer

One slightly less obvious reason why Minnesota is an incredible place to view the northern lights? Our abundance of inland lakes. Prolific northern lights photographer Travis Novitsky explains, "My favorite spot is on the south shore of any inland lake in northeast Minnesota. Being on the south shore means you get a great view of the lights looking north over the lake (as their name implies, northern lights are often most visible in the northern part of the sky)."

Unlike other states that might have one or two ideal spots to view the northern lights, Minnesota's 10,000 lakes offer borealis chasers a practically unlimited supply of unique spots to view and frame them.

Contrary to popular belief, there is no one season for northern lights, but that doesn't mean weather has no effect on light activity. In fact, northern lights can be predicted quite accurately by following weather conditions--just not the weather conditions here on Earth. What you want to follow is space weather, primarily the solar wind stream and solar flares of the sun.

Split Rock Creek State Park in Jasper
Dave Bellis

According to the popular science website howstuffworks.com, aurora borealis occurs, "when highly charged electrons from the solar wind interact with elements in the Earth's atmosphere. As the electrons enter the Earth's upper atmosphere, they will encounter atoms of oxygen and nitrogen at altitudes of 20 to 200 miles above the Earth's surface. The color of the aurora depends on which atom is struck, and the altitude of the meeting."

Novitsky uses spaceweather.com as his primary resource for "keeping watch" on northern lights activity. "If there's a chance of activity, [the site] will tell you about it--sometimes as many as three or four days in advance. I check that website almost every day."

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