Let’s be honest: No matter where you go, it’s nearly impossible to guarantee witnessing the Northern Lights. Many dream of viewing the majestic bands of light dancing across a star-filled night sky. But very few ever get to see it in-person.
It just so happens that if you’re in the continental United States (sorry Alaska and Hawaii), the Keweenaw Peninsula might be your best bet to catch this phenomenon caused by solar flares and Earth’s magnetic field.
If you have yet to see the aurora - 2024 may be your year. Based on the sun's changing activity, scientists believe our current solar cycle will peak in 2024. That means you're going to have a better chance of seeing the aurora borealis when the skies are clear. Solar cycles last around 10-11 years, bringing a range of solar activity. Despite being mostly unpredictable - they build to a maximum before settling and starting a new cycle. 2024 will be the peak of this decade's current solar cycle.
During the peak of a cycle, space weather like solar flares and coronal mass ejections occur more frequently. These solar events have a direct effect on the northern lights and space weather we can see from Earth. Solar flares packing enough power can trigger coronal mass ejections. This astral catalyst can release plasma and magnetic force from the sun - sending it to Earth carrying "fast-moving charged particles". While these can cause radio and electric disruptions - it's also responsible for triggering what we see as the northern lights.
The rationale is pretty simple:
Photo credit: Eric Hackney @eahackne. Northern Lights over Calumet Waterworks Park.
So now that you know that the Copper Country is the place to go, how can you up the chance of viewing these elusive lights?
According to our good friends at Michigan Tech, you’re more likely to see the Northern Lights between August and April, with the peak months being April, October, and November. Those kids are crazy smart, so I’ll trust them on this. That doesn’t mean you can’t see them at other times of the year (solar flares don’t keep a calendar), but this is prime time.
There are a lot of great free websites and mobile apps that communicate when the Northern Lights can likely be viewed. Many will send you notifications, text messages, or emails to tell you if something’s happening. Here are a few websites that can help:
As stated above, there are a bunch of places to choose from to wait out the lights. Again, head north away from light pollution and be sure you have an unobstructed view of the northern horizon. Here are a few to get you started:
Photo credit: @nathanfrazier_20. Aurora at Breakers Park.
Seriously, take a moment to really look up, and enjoy a clear night sky. For many, this is a rare experience even absent an aurora. Bring a constellation guide and have fun stargazing. The universe truly is a spectacular sight to behold.
Honestly, no matter what the forecasts say, sometimes it just doesn’t happen. But with some persistence and a bit of luck, you’ll be rewarded with one of nature’s most memorable experiences.