You don’t have to travel to the Arctic Circle to see the northern lights. Thanks to our northern location and vast, dark skies, we in Cook County, Minnesota are lucky enough to see them often.
8 Tips for viewing the Aurora Borealis in Cook County MN
- Check the forecast. The best viewing is during clear nights with little to no moonlight.
- Stay up late. Night owls have the best chance of catching this incredible phenomenon. Best times to see them is often between 9pm – 4am.
- Bundle up. Bring blankets and a Thermos of hot chocolate. Northern nights get chilly.
- Look to the North. Grab a compass and find a spot with a good view to the north, without hills or trees blocking your line of sight.
- Turn off lights. Artificial light will make it more difficult to see the northern lights. Be sure to turn off car lights, house lights, flashlight and keep your cell phone screen dim.
- Be patient. Part of their mystic is the unpredictability of occurrence. Catching a glimpse of the northern lights takes dedication, patience and a good friend to keep you company.
- Know what to look for. Aurora borealis appear in a broad spectrum of colors. Most typically seen is a faint green-yellow or white-grey display. However, purples and reds can also be seen.
- Tell a friend. When venturing into the woods to find that perfect spot, be sure to let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return. Also, letting someone else know the northern lights are out will increase your chance of them returning the favor in the future.
What is the best time of year to view the aurora borealis?
They can appear year-round. For reasons not yet fully understood, northern lights appear most frequently in the late fall and winter. It is very difficult to predict when they aurora borealis will be active, however there are a few great websites that offer good information and forecasts.
Check an aurora forecaster
There are a few websites that offer decent northern lights forecasting capabilities. Here are a few that we use. You’ll notice on all of these sites there is reference to KP levels. KP levels is a scale of numbers 0 -9 that will give you an approximation of where you’ll need to be for a chance to see the auroras. To see them in our area, you’ll be looking for a KP of 4 or higher.
- Soft Serve News aurora borealis forecast to see if they will be active during your visit.
- NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center for more information on the northern lights.
- Aurora Service - http://www.aurora-service.org/aurora-forecast/
- View Central time zone map for a visual on where you might see lights.
What causes the northern lights?
The Northern Lights are caused by the interaction of the solar wind – a stream of charged particles escaping the Sun – and our planet’s magnetic field and atmosphere. Read more about what causes the aurora borealis here.
In addition to the northern lights, other celestial events happen throughout the year. Annually occurring sometime between mid-July and mid-August is the Perseid meteor shower. November offers another good chance when the Leonid show typically occurs. Follow the many of the same tips to seek out the northern lights to catch a meteor shower. Fortunately, just by being in the great northwoods your chances of catching a shooting star are infinitely increased.