When the Sky is on Fire

Now that winter is here, many of us dread the inevitable shorter daylight hours.  But for those who live in (or visit) the upper latitudes of the northern hemisphere, there’s one spectacular upside to the encroaching darkness:  more opportunities to experience the Northern Lights.  And few locations are better for viewing these celestial light shows than Voyageurs National Park.

Situated near the Canadian border in northern Minnesota, Voyageurs is a natural wonderland of lakes and forests.  And while our longtime partner park offers stunning scenery by day, by night it offers one of nature’s most enthralling light shows – a shimmering cascade of colored streaks and dancing cloud-like formations illuminating the night sky. 

The northern lights have fascinated humans since the dawn of civilization, and they’ve been called many names. To the ancient Chinese, they were “cracks in the heavens.” The Lapps in Scandinavia label them “sky fires.” And various Indigenous peoples call them the “dance of the dead.”  Scientists refer to them (somewhat less poetically) as the aurora borealis.

Photo by Gordy Lindgren

The lights occur sporadically over the middle and high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, triggered when solar radiation collides with nitrogen and oxygen atoms in the Earth’s atmosphere. Considering Voyageur’s northern location, on a clear night you can see stunning displays of the northern lights as shades of greens, red, blues and purples dance in the night sky. (The color of the aurora depends on which atom is struck and the altitude of the collision.)

You can glimpse the northern lights at any time of year, but your chances are better during winter because there are more hours of darkness.  If you’re unable to travel to Voyageurs to see the light show for yourself, check out the photos on the park’s website.

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