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Article Teaser: The first time I saw the Northern Lights, I was leaning over the steering wheel of a dusky purple 1977 Chevy Nova on a northern highway near midnight, trying to roll down the driver's side window to get a better fix on it during my holiday, even as my passenger was shouting to be heard over the ghostly radio voices fading in and out. Within seconds it multiplied and changed colors, soaring over us like an exploding rainbow. Nature's primal postcard, my holiday highlight delivered free.

Keep reading below...

Discover a High In the Sky Holiday

Copyright (c) 2006-2017 Travel Alberta, All Rights Reserved
Written by:

The first time I saw it, I was leaning over the steering wheel of a dusky purple 1977 Chevy Nova on a northern highway near midnight, trying to roll down the driver's side window to get a better fix on it during my holiday, even as my passenger was shouting to be heard over the ghostly radio voices fading in and out. Within seconds it multiplied and changed colors, soaring over us like an exploding rainbow. Nature's primal postcard, my holiday highlight delivered free.

It's fascinating and beautiful and daunting and a mind-blowing blast. It's green and white and yellow and mauve and sometimes crimson. If I boasted that it's bigger than a Spielberg movie and better than the top five best things you can count on your right hand, well, you might be suspicious. But you can see for yourself. Just head to Alberta's North. You can access it through Edmonton, the city that is the international gateway to the North. Edmonton, the province's capital city, is often used a starting point for holiday ventures into Alberta's uppermost areas.


Fort McMurray Frontier

Fort McMurray (some 430 km north Edmonton or a 70-minute flight from the city) is one of the best places to view the phenomenon, best known as the Northern Lights. Fort McMurray, which was founded in 1790 as a North West Company fur-trading post, lies within the southern portion of the zone of maximum auroral occurrence during the night-time hours, according to Dr. Gordon Rostoker, an Aurora researcher at the University of Alberta. Put simply, as a viewing platform, the Fort McMurray area is superb.

Also, the city is relatively free from light pollution, unlike some cities where the haze of night lights pushes the darkness out and makes viewing difficult. And Fort McMurray is still considered a frontier city, growing famous for its oil sands yet maintaining an edge-of-the-wilderness ambience that invites a holiday such as Northern Lights exploration and viewing.

In astronomy, an aurora is an optical phenomenon characterized by colorful displays of light in the night sky, caused by the interaction of charged particles from the solar wind with the upper atmosphere of a planet. On Earth, aurorae are caused by the interaction of solar wind particles with the planet's magnetic field. They are most prominent in higher latitudes near the magnetic poles. For this reason, the aurora occurring in Earth's Northern Hemisphere is called the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights.


When It's Late, It's Great

In Latin, aurora means "dawn," though viewing the Northern Lights is usually best experienced late in the evening and past midnight. And the lights are already performing in autumn, as the viewing season starts in September and lasts until April.

While of course there are other places in Canada to view the Northern Lights, statistics from Environment Canada suggest Fort McMurray has the advantage over other Canadian destinations of a higher mean temperature, giving the viewing of Alberta's Northern Lights, more 'wow': sharp colors that undulate like a multi-hued blanket in a breeze.

Karen Soyka, a Lake Louise resident and independent contractor in the travel industry, went on an Aurora Borealis viewing holiday at the Fort McMurray area early in October this year. What she saw startled her, even though she'd thought she'd arrived prepared. And as the months progress into winter, the viewing gets better.

"We've all heard about it and we've read about it and seen pictures," says Soyka. "But until you see it dancing...well, it's a brilliant moment. I couldn't believe it. I wasn't sure what it would be like until I actually went, but I found this tour to be a very rewarding experience."


Guided Tours

Sokyka's guided tour of several days with Alta-Can Aurora Tours began in Edmonton, kicking off with a road trip of about four hours in a motor coach. "It gives you time to rest before viewing the lights at night, because we started viewing at 11 p.m.," says Soyka.


"This holiday tour also highlights what life in northern Alberta is like," says Soyka. "You are not just going to look at the sky. Someone comes in to talk about the aurora and there's also a photographer who comes along and helps you set up your camera to help capture the night. I had a digital camera and before I knew it he'd helped me and I got some amazing photos."

Tour operators in the region that specialize in Northern Lights tours include Alta-Can Aurora Tours, Aurora Adventures and Aurora Tours.


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Copyright (c) 2006 Travel Alberta, All Rights Reserved

Travel Alberta is the destination marketing organization for the Province of Alberta. Guided by the Strategic Tourism Marketing Council, Travel Alberta is the steward for the effective delivery of tourism marketing programs. For information about our organization, please visit our Travel Alberta industry web site at http://www.travelalberta.com

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Internal ID: #4067
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Total Views: 2517

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