The Aurora Borealis in Alaska

Posted: April 22nd, 2017


Aurora Viewing Tips

  • Find a dark viewing spot, a good 30-45 minutes away from city lights (see these viewing locations near Fairbanks, Alaska)
  • Turn your car lights off immediately once you get to a viewing spot
  • March, specifically the Spring Equinox (March 20th-21st), is considered the best month to view the Aurora although it can be seen any time there is enough darkness (after April 20th or so, there is too much light in the sky to see the Aurora well)
  • The night sky needs to be clear (few to no clouds)
  • The moon needs to be out of sight, ideally watch it during a New Moon so it's dark enough to see it
  • The Aurora is best viewed near the Arctic Circle (up there they call it the "overhead lights" not the "Northern Lights")
  • Stay up late, 11pm-4am being the best times to watch
  • The sun goes through cycles of about 11 years, 2017 being the end of high point so activity will be lower until the mid 2020s (see solar cycle for aurora)
  • Dress warm, it will be well below freezing when watching the Aurora most of the time
  • Watch aurora forecast for Alaska
    • Get alerts on mobile with an Aurora app that sends you notifications when there is activity likely near your location
  • Activity could last minutes or hours, it's not that predictable so be prepared to wait a while

Auroa Photo Tips

  • Use a tripod (with a remote)
  • Dress warm and know your camera's low temperature because it could shut off
  • Have a full battery
  • Use manual mode, focus on things in the foreground if you can see them at all
  • Have a long exposure, from about 1 second to around 30 seconds, the Aurora moves at different speeds and intensities so adjust accordingly (too short and it's not very visible, too long and it's a blur)
  • Use 800-3200 ISO to capture enough light to make an exposure
  • Use as wide of an angle lens as you can (I used an 18-55mm lens but could have used a wider angle)
  • See more detailed tips: here and here

Impression of Aurora

Viewing the Auora Borealis (Northern Lights) was an incredible experience, like having a moment with the universe. The lights move in a peculiar way unlike any cloud. It is nearly impossible to capture the exact experience and sometimes it's best to just watch and avoid trying to capture it. In April there are about 7 more minutes of sunlight a day in Alaska so the difference between April 18th and April 23rd was noticeable and after this time it's unlikely to see the Aurora well due to the amount of sunlight.

UPDATE: I also recorded a video of the Aurora at Murphy Dome here.

Impression of Fairbanks, Alaska

Fairbanks is a cool city to visit. My favorite cafes were Venue (more artsy) and Alaska Coffee Roasting Co, my favorite bars were The Marlin (a dive bar) and Lavelle’s Taphouse (large selection and an innovative website with keg level). The college radio in Fairbanks (KSUA 91.5 FM) is an amazing station that gives a sense of life in Fairbanks.

April in Fairbanks is sort of a dead month but a hidden gem, it's after the March Aurora/ Dog Mushing crowd and before the mid-May summer tourist season. This leads to lower prices, ability to see some Aurora activity, a lack of crowds and an ability to meet locals. April seems to be when the locals start socializing more after months of intense darkness. April is a bright month with long days, there could still be snow but the roads are clear.

Equipment Used

Subscribe for new posts!