The Alaska Highway turns 75 next year. If you’re driving it around New Year’s next January – or any time during the winter months of the Anniversary year – get ready to see some amazing Northern Lights.
Here are 10 fun ideas about what to do under the Northern Lights.
- Pull into a roadside stop, recline your car seats, open your sunroof and enjoy the show. See them in silence or add some musical ambiance.
- Drive a pickup truck down to the riverside. Park it where you have a good view of the sky and climb into the back with blankets and your favourite people.
- Set up your digital SLR camera, with remote shutter release mechanism, on a tall tripod. Remove all filters, including the UV. Shoot with your aperture set to F2.8 for 30-40 seconds or F4.0 for 15-20 seconds. Use bracketing techniques to get the best shots.
- Rent a small cabin in the woods with a fireplace and a cozy bed.
- Get out there dogsledding with a team of high-energy huskies and a flask of hot chocolate, ice wine or your choice of adult beverage.
- Go hiking under swirls of purple and green neon.
- Pop the question, if you’re so inclined.
- Light a raging bonfire and roast marshmallows with the kids, taking a few steps back every once in a while to improve your view of the Northern Lights.
- Paraglide through the night under the Northern Lights. Yes, this has been done. You can see it on YouTube, although we’re not sure who the outfitters were!
- Write poetry or enjoy a live, acoustical jam.
What are the Northern Lights, anyway?
Atoms at the centre of the Sun bombard each other, fuelling an atomic inferno that super-heats plasma. Fiery jets of the plasma race to the Sun’s surface and “slingshot” away from it as solar windstorms. They race across the solar system at the speed of light toward Earth. Magnetic fields deflect most of them toward Pluto. Those that get inside our atmosphere are pulled magnetically to the North and South poles where they collide with gases, producing tiny flashes of brilliant, neon colour: The astonishingly beautiful Northern Lights.
How are different colours produced?
The Canadian Space Agency says “the colours of the aurora are determined by the composition of gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, the altitude at which the aurora occurs, the density of the atmosphere, and the level of energy involved.” Green is produced when sun storm particles hit oxygen at 100 to 300 km in the night sky. “Occasionally, the lower edge of an aurora will have a pink or crimson fringe, which is produced by nitrogen (at around 100 km). Higher in the atmosphere (300 to 400 km), collisions with atomic oxygen produce red instead of green. Since the atmosphere is less dense at higher altitudes, it takes more energy and more time to produce red light (up to two minutes), whereas green light can be made quickly at lower altitudes (about one second). Hydrogen and helium can also produce blue and purple, but those colours tend to be difficult for our eyes to see against the night sky.” (Source: Canadian Space Agency)