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Northern Lights

 

The Aurora Borealis is something that’s as much experienced as observed. It is so otherworldly that it cannot be adequately captured in words or pictures. Churchill has been an area of study for this incredible light show for years, primarily by Canada’s civilian space agency, the National Research Council. It seems the more you learn about the northern lights, the more questions you have. Perhaps this shows that some things were created to be infinitely mysterious.
      

So what causes the northern lights? Part of the answer can be found in the VanAllen radiation belts, which circle the world deflecting and reflecting much of the sun’s radiation away from the earth. This stray radiation is harmlessly diverted towards the earth’s polar magnetic regions, which excites gases in our upper atmosphere—similar to how a neon sign gives off different colored lights when using different gases. Oxygen gives off green light, and nitrogen creates a pink light. How all these things happen, and for what reason is another question for another day.
      

Northern lights actually occur all year long but they are hard to see when the sun is still shining in our long summer days. The best time to view northern lights is in the middle of winter, but some of the most memorable lights have happened during the months of September-November. The trick is to get into a dark area where the northern lights are not polluted by other sources of light such as a full moon or man-made light. The backside of the Lodge is a relatively good place to see the northern lights, but it is best to take a short drive out of town to get the full effect. To see northern lights during our polar bear season, try to come as late in the season as possible. The colder it gets, the less ice fog Churchill seems to have.
        

If you have a penchant for taking pictures of the lights, bring a tripod and a good digital camera. The digital cameras seem to have a sensitivity to the northern lights that film just never had.
        

Northern lights will appear in the sky in many different patterns and designs. Often it has been compared to someone in the sky playing a piano keyboard. Northern lights will shift, pulsate and quickly move in different directions. On extremely rare occasions, there is a phenomenon known as a pinwheel where light emanates from a central point and fans out much like a child’s pinwheel toy.