x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Where the sky is on fire

I have always wanted to see the Aurora Borealis, but what exactly is it, and where and when should I visit to make sure I see it?

The Aurora Borealis becomes more dramatic as the viewer nears the Earth's magnetic North Pole. Above is a view from the most northern state in the US: Alaska.
The Aurora Borealis becomes more dramatic as the viewer nears the Earth's magnetic North Pole. Above is a view from the most northern state in the US: Alaska.

I have always wanted to see the Aurora Borealis, but what exactly is it, and where and when should I visit to make sure I see it? Although aural lights can be seen in both hemispheres, the Aurora Borealis (or "Northern Lights") can only be seen in the northern hemisphere. The chances of seeing it increase the further you get to the magnetic North Pole in the Canadian Arctic. Therefore, Canada, Alaska, Iceland and Norway are all popular destinations.

At its best, the aurora borealis appears as a spectacular coloured display of lights in the night sky. It's most dramatic when viewed from the wilderness, although lights have also been clearly seen in cities such as Calgary. The lights are a natural phenomenon known as a "geomagnetic storm". This is a collection of fast-moving particles which are electrically charged and originate from the sun. They are driven by the Earth's magnetic field towards the North Pole, and acquire their bright colours from the different gases in the atmosphere. Blue indicates nitrogen, yellow and green oxygen and red denotes high-altitude atoms. The lights and patterns which form are always unique and can appear either as curtains of diffuse light or as arcs of colour.

However, despite the fact that it is a common occurrence in this region, and most frequent from March to April and September to October, the Aurora Borealis is a natural phenomenon and sightings cannot be guaranteed. Much like fishing expeditions, or whale-watching trips, there is an element of chance as to what you'll see. Aural activity also runs in 11-year cycles; scientists predict that 2012 will be a particularly good year. Fairbanks University in Alaska posts forecasts on www.gedds.alaska.edu/auroraforecast.

There are hundreds of companies offering packages to view the Aurora Borealis. In Alaska, AlaskaTours.com (www.alaskatours.com) organises packages which include transport to viewing points, accommodation, hire of winter gear and food. In Norway, Hurtigruten (www.visitnorthernlights.co.uk) offers a cruise from Tromso to Trondheim. In Canada, the Great Canadian Adventure Company (www.adventures.ca) organises packages from Edmonton, Alberta. Lots of companies in Rekyavik offer aurora borealis viewing trips; Iceland Experience (www.iceland-experience.com) offers three or four-day packages.

I am planning a holiday in southern Turkey this summer, but I want to avoid the big resorts. Can you recommend any good places to stay in the Kalkan area? In Kalkan, the Patara Prince Hotel & Resort (www.pataraprince.com) is a good choice. It has 60 elegant rooms and is set on a slope above the bay. Double rooms cost from US$220 (Dh810) per night including tax during low season to $400 (Dh1,470) in high season. Alternatively, the Hotel Villa Mahal (www.villamahal.com) is more intimate. The hotel has just 13 rooms, all with private terraces sitting directly above the water's edge, away from the road. Some of its rooms have private pools and jacuzzis. Double rooms cost from US200 (Dh735) per night in low season to $425 (Dh1,560) at the top of the high season, including taxes and breakfast.

Do you have any travel-related questions? If so, email them to us at travel@thenational.ae