Aurora Borealis - The Northern Lights in the Northwest Territories
Lots of people swear the lights hiss and crackle. But for a long time, researchers said they were hearing things.
Scientifically speaking, the “noisy Aurora” theory seems mad. The lightshow happens at least 60 kilometres overhead, in the soundless void of space. And even if it could make a noise up there, the sound would take five minutes to get to Earth.
But a few years ago, a Finnish scientist threw all that knowledge for a loop. Aalto University acoustic researcher Unto K. Laine placed three low-frequency microphones beneath a magnetic storm and captured a “weird surging hiss.” The explanation for the noise is a mystery, but “there’s something going on,” says Tom Hallinen, a professor at Alaska’s Geophysical Institute. “It’s scientifically unreasonable, but people do hear it.”
Many people also think that it's only possibly to view the Aurora in winter. A dogsled, a snowy trail, and the Aurora. That’s how millions of prospective visitors imagine the Northwest Territories – a winter wonderland, bathed by glowing lights. But increasingly, Aurora-watchers are flocking here long before Old Man Winter arrives – and discovering why seeing the Northern Lights in summer is a hot trend indeed.
While skygazers at that time of year must stay up a bit later to enjoy the cosmic lightshow, they’re in for a treat. According to many, seeing the Northern Lights is best in summer – and they say a number of myths about “when to watch the Aurora” are full of hot air:
The Northern Lights don’t fire up in winter and then fizzle when summer rolls around. They’re in no way seasonal. Rather, they flash and flicker year-round, their intensity dependent entirely on haphazard solar events. If a flare of plasma erupts from the sun, spewing charged particles toward the Earth, the Northern Lights will go gangbusters any time of year, be it June or January.
Sure, in mid-June, when the midnight sun blazes in the Northern sky, you can’t really glimpse the Aurora – nor the moon, stars and so forth. But by early August, darkness has crept back to the Northern frontier. By late August, Fort Smith, at the Alberta border, enjoys four hours of pitch-blackness each night and plenty of twilight on either side. Yellowknife is inky for at least two hours, with lots of additional dusk and dawn. By late September, of course, the dark is back in force, creating prime Aurora-viewing conditions for 12 hours per night or more.
While it’s true that the cold, dry winters offer crisp views of the cosmos, Yellowknife also enjoys remarkably cloudless summer skies – the clearest of any city in Canada. Grey days do indeed become more common as autumn approaches, but Yellowknife’s Septembers are overcast only 30 percent of the time. Hay River, south of Great Slave Lake, is even more clear – all but 25 percent of the time in September. Only in October does the gloom roll in, causing a hiatus in Aurora-watching until mid-November.
There are two high seasons for Aurora viewing in the Northwest Territories – in summer, from August to early October, and again in winter, from November to mid-April. You can stay at fly-in wilderness lodges or enjoy day-tours in our capital city, Yellowknife. So whether you want to get back to nature or see urban sights, there’s a summertime Aurora-viewing experience that’s perfect for your tastes and your pocketbook.
The summer Aurora experience can be an amazing one too. Imagine taking a boat tour beneath the dancing lights as the colours dance on water. Or imagine fishing, hiking or camping as the Lights wriggle overhead. And of course, imagine basking in a sleeping bag atop a stately outcrop, or kicking back around a crackling campfire, and enjoying enjoy summer’s balmy warmth as the heavens put on a show.
See the Aurora Borealis in true wilderness fashion with a stay at Blachford Lake Lodge
or from the shore of Great Slave Lake