Aurora borealis are actually solar particles blown into the earth’s magnetic field more than 60 miles above the earth’s surface. Some people mistakenly think that the glow of city lights at night are northern lights, but that’s not correct. The real thing starts as greenish bands that move in an east-west direction, then sometimes evolve into undulating waves. They create greenish yellow, faint blue, majestic pink or even blood red curtains of color. Alaska Native groups once believed the lights had mystical powers, or were even the dancing spirits of the dead. Check out this incredible time lapse video filmed in 2013 to whet your appetite:

How It Works: The lights start in the northern part of the sky and often appear static and stationary. As they build in intensity, they become more dynamic in color and position. With increased intensity, auroras begin to ripple lightly in the shape of curtains hung in the sky. As they reach maximum intensity, these curtains deform into arcs and spirals that can arc dramatically with glowing colors. At these greater levels of activity, auroras are unmistakable to most all viewers for approximately 20 minutes.

When To Watch: We get a lot of questions as to when its a good time to cruise in Alaska to see the northern lights. Peak viewing season is in the dead of winter, when the weather is the coldest and the darkest. However there are good opportunities to see the northern lights also at the end of summer in late August and early September. Peak activity is typically between 12:30 am and 4:30 am, when the nights are darkest and clearest. Since the peak lights are only visible in the wee hours of the morning (or the late hours of the night) you won’t be able to enjoy it on a shore excursion – but we highly recommend that you take advantage of the darkness around you on the pool deck of your cruise ship.

Just set your alarm clock, bundle up in warm clothing, grab a hot chocolate and enjoy nature’s spectacle!