Going into the (northern) light!

Aurora borealis (Pixabay.com, Pixabay.com)

I had what might seem like a typical question from a viewer, but this one actually prompted a little research to share!

We have read that the northern lights are cyclical and that the best chance of viewing them is between 2024 and 2025. ( around the time of the new moon) We are thinking of trying to view them when we go to Fairbanks Alaska in March 2024. So how can I find out when the new moon will be prevalent in March 2024 in Fairbanks, Alaska? Rosie

Thanks for the email, Rosie, and the quick answer is March 10, 2024.

From TimeandDate.com

But just what is the aurora borealis?

The northern lights (at both poles, so there are southern lights also) are the result of charged particles -- electrons and protons -- rushing from the sun on solar winds into our atmosphere. Generally, Earth’s magnetic field is strong enough to deflect these particles, but at the poles that magnetic field is weaker and so the particles get through. They collide with our atmosphere which is largely oxygen and nitrogen. The yellow-green lights are produced by the oxygen collision while the red and purplish lights are attributed to the nitrogen collision. And all this happens 50 to 400 miles up.

And when to see it?

Rosie is on the right timeline. The solar winds are at a maximum more or less every 11 years and the next period for best light viewing will be from November 2024 to March 2026 with a peak in July 2025. Here’s an article from Forbes. Obviously, the forecast is not an exact science! But March of 2024 should still be an excellent time for viewing from Fairbanks where the northern lights are fairly common and not as dependent on the timing of the solar maximum.

You’ll definitely want the new moon (meaning no moon and no moonlight) in place, plan on at least a three-night window to count on clear skies, and just look up from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. Fairbanks’ viewing season is from Aug. 21 to April 21 on any give year, so they see a lot of lights! In fact, they have their own website dedicated to all things Fairbanks with an excellent northern lights guide.

Enjoy, Rosie, and send me lots of pics!


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About the Authors:

KPRC 2's chief meteorologist with three decades of experience forecasting Houston's weather.

Amanda Cochran is an Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist. She specializes in Texas features, consumer and business news and local crime coverage.