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Northern Lights Photos

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Red Auora Borealis Photos
Green Northern Lights
Northern Lights Photos

Alaska is home to many unique land features and seasonal events. Perhaps none are so magical as the Aurora Borealis (Latin for "Northern Lights" – the "Southern Lights" at the South Pole would be Aurora Australis). At Alaska Stock Images, you will find a wide variety of Alaska photos including Northern Lights Photos. To find more pictures of Alaska or photos of Northern Lights, visit our search page.

Alaska Northern Lights
Aurora Borealis
The Northern Lights have been observed for many centuries...long before there was any true explanation for their occurrence. Observations have been made throughout time by the Inuit people of the far north to Aristoteles who described them as flames of burning gas. The Lights have been viewed as both good omen as well as bad. During the middle ages, sighting the red Aurora indicated the outbreak of war.
Green "arc" near Portage Glacier
Green "arc" near Portage Lake

In the modern world, the Northern Lights can often be just as mysterious. Summertime visitors to Alaska often ask, "When do they turn the Northern Lights on" or "Can you see the Northern Lights every night?" Although both questions may receive a chuckle, with a smile and a practiced explanation, the answers are patiently given: the Northern Lights are not "turned on" but are a natural phenomenon that occurs year round and possibly all day, including the summer, but generally cannot be seen due to the long day light hours.

In technical terms, Northern lights are caused by ionization in the stratosphere. The sun continuously emits a stream of plasma (charged particles), commonly known as the "solar wind," and these particles come into interaction with the earth's magnetic field. The particles, being charged, are subject to magnetic forces and funneled to the North and South poles, where they coalesce, gather energy from the magnetic field and light up when they come in contact with the naturally occurring gases surrounding the Earth.
Northern Lights Corona
Northern Lights Corona

Perhaps a more comprehensible way of understanding the Northern Lights is to view them much like a neon sign. A neon sign is simply a tube that contains gases which produce light when an electrical charge is introduced (different gases produce different colors). Likewise, the sun emits charged particles that stream towards the Earth and light up like a neon sign when the particles hit the gases high in the Earth's atmosphere. The two most common gases are Oxygen which create red and green aurora depending on how high they are and nitrogen which produces blue and violet. Although the Northern Lights can seem quite low in the sky, in truth, they typically occur 50 miles above the Earth's surface and no closer than 40 miles up.

Red Northern Lights pictures
Red Northern Lights

If visiting Alaska during the early spring, late fall, or winter months, there are several tips for observing the Northern Lights:

  • Observing "season" is from about August 15 to Apr 15.
  • Any place north of the Alaska Range (Fairbanks, Circle, Fort Yukon) will provide perhaps the most reliable and predictable areas due to more nights of clear weather and closer proximity to the pole, but with careful observation of the Sun's activity and good weather reports, much of Southcentral Alaska can provide excellent opportunities.
  • Statistically, the hours closer to midnight are the most likely for observing Northern Lights.
  • Best nights to observe are the night after a verbal report of seeing the Aurora or 27 days after a major Auroral display (the sun appears to rotate on its axis with a period of 27 days and any "storm" may still be active and repeat the same solar wind)
  • If traveling from the lower 48, try for a seat on the right side of the plane which will face North, block out as much cabin light as possible and watch for both color and motion in the sky.
Purple and Pink Northern Lights
Purple and Pink Northern Lights

Books of Interest:

Northern Lights: The Science, Myth, and Wonder of Aurora Borealis In Northern Lights, photographers Calvin Hall and Daryl Pederson bring to print nearly a hundred photographs of this amazing natural phenomenon, shot from remote locations all over Alaska and using no filters or digital enhancement. Just as fascinating are the legends, myths, and science surrounding this polar phenomenon, described by George Bryson.

The Aurora Watcher's Handbook (Natural History) - Starting at the basic level, the handbook begins with matters of immediate concern to someone who hopes to see an auroral display: what causes the aurora, when it is most often seen, and how best to capture it on film. Later sections provide a review of all aspects of auroral science, including the mysterious realm of auroral sound.

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