When they stand beneath the aurora borealis as its colors light up the night, even the most cynical visitors to the northern hemisphere may think magic is the only explanation for the phenomenon.
While there is scientific reasoning, there are also mythical tales about why the northern lights appear in the Alaska atmosphere as well as other places in the world.
“Nowadays, we look to the heavens and know that electrons from space are colliding with nitrogen and oxygen gases to create ethereal auroras in greens, reds, pinks, and blues,” says Scott McCrea, CTP, Explore Fairbanks’ director of tourism and convention sales. “But in the days of yore, people would craft fantastic stories about what was occurring in the night sky.
“Here in Alaska, the most well-known aurora legend told by the indigenous people of the Arctic is that the northern lights are spirits of the dead playing ball with a walrus head. Northern European Norse mythology says that the aurora were the spirits of valiant warriors ascending a fire bridge into the heavens. In Asian lore, the northern lights were thought to be good and evil dragons battling each other in the sky. These powerful myths reveal how people were, and still are, awe-inspired by the aurora.”
Aug. 21 through April 21 is aurora season in Fairbanks, and McCrea says it’s one of the best places on Earth to view the lights.
“Far away from the madding crowds, with minimal light pollution, meager amounts of precipitation, and positioned in a most advantageous location directly under the ‘Auroral Oval’ (where aurora activity is concentrated), Fairbanks is a divine destination for northern lights viewing, spanning all four seasons and nine months of the year,” he says.
Explore Fairbanks built the Aurora Tracker, which combines data to predict ample opportunities to see the northern lights in the region. Visitors have an average chance of seeing the lights four out of the five nights they’re in Fairbanks (given that the sky is clear and dark enough).
Groups and FITs traveling to the city in Alaska’s interior have several options for viewing the northern lights. They can take an aurora hunting tour, which moves participants to different areas for the best sightings (including above the Arctic Circle); visit an aurora viewing lodge; or stay in a glass, igloo-shaped accommodation. Winter travelers can package aurora viewing with other activities, like dog mushing or ice fishing, McCrea says.
Photos by Explore Fairbanks