A Spectacular Celestial Display
A popular inquiry at Algoma Country is about the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, and stargazing. With a tourism geography of 28,000 square miles and much of it being wilderness, it’s not a surprise. And with most vacationers that flock here for outdoor adventures, seeing the Northern Lights and star gazing is always on their list of things to see.
What are the Northern Lights?
Also called Aurora Borealis, this spectacular and colourful light show is seen in the night sky in the Northern Hemisphere. And it’s a light show based on science. Northern Lights occur when charged particles collide with gases in the Earth’s upper atmosphere, causing tiny flashes that create the colourful lights in the sky. The lights “dance” because billions of flashes occur in sequence.
You can read more at the Canadian Space Agency’s website by clicking here
What is the Best Time of Year to See the Northern Lights?
The best times of year are Fall and Winter, so September to March. The weather should be clear and cold for them to appear. The best time to view is between 9 pm and 3 am. Be sure you are looking North, know your direction using a compass. Use the compass on your smartphone or buy one from Great Lakes Outfitters.
How Can I See the Northern Lights?
You need to find a dark location with a clear view. Generally, those would be rural areas with very little light to no pollution.
- Visit www.spaceweather.com which has a 24-hour forecast for any reported solar activity that may contribute to Northern Lights in Ontario.
- Download My Aurora Forecast & Alerts which is a great app for predicting the Northern Lights in Canada and the world. You’ll be able to find the current KP index, best locations, solar wind statistics and more.
- Geophysical Institute – University of Alaska Fairbanks has a great resource section about the science of Auroras and forecasting.
Tips for Photographing the Northern Lights
For the best viewing you need:
- DSLR camera with a wide-angle lens
- sturdy tripod to prevent shaking.
- a cable release or remote also prevents shaking.
Find a dark location with clear horizons. Use the tripod to angle your camera to include the sky and the trees or take an image straight up.
Make sure to adjust your settings for shutter speed and lens. Local photographers from Algoma recommend setting the shutter speed anywhere between 10 – 30 seconds. For lens, advice includes setting your camera to manual focus and lens to infinity for clarity.
Local photographers who frequently capture the Northern Lights have provided some great tips and resources about their dark sky adventures in Algoma Country:
We recommend following Jeff Dixon who has been photographing the Northern Lights and the night sky for about 2 decades:
Dark Sky Adventures in Algoma
Dark Sky Preserve – Lake Superior Provincial Park is an officially recognized Dark Sky Preserve by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. For those visiting the park, the Agawa Bay beach area which is near the outdoor amphitheatre is the designated viewing area for the Dark Sky Preserve as it offers an unobstructed view west over Lake Superior. Other locations in the park, like Old Woman Bay, offer stargazing opportunities, too. If you plan to visit the park, we recommend that you speak with on-site staff to learn more about viewing opportunities.
Full Moon Hike – Forest the Canoe offers a unique night-time guided experience with a full moon walk amongst the pines. Interpretive guides lead you through a canopy of red and white pines with the full moon peeking through. This is a 2-hour hike with a headlamp and snack provided to participants. This experience is offered in the summer and winter by snowshoe.
Chapleau Crown Game Preserve – is the largest preserve in the world at over 2 million acres. Missinaibi Provincial Park is located within its geography and the preserve is close to the community of Chapleau. Contact the town office to learn more about the preserve and local guide services that may be available.
What Else You Should Know
- Don’t plan to come to Algoma Country just to see the Northern Lights. The region is an awesome destination to enjoy the outdoors and learn about the culture, heritage and history of this place.
- You don’t have control of the Northern Lights, they are a natural phenomenon. Although forecasts and alerts do a good job of predictions, it’s possible you won’t see them.
- When you venture out from communities to find dark-sky locations, be sure you’re venturing out on crown land, not private property. Find all the provincial parks in Algoma
- Be prepared and plan: choose your dark sky location in advance, use resources, as you’ll be outdoors for a few hours dress appropriately, and bring snacks and water as you can expect to be outdoors for some time.
Resources for Northern Lights Viewing and Stargazing
Ontario Parks blogs:
Space Weather Prediction Center:
- www.swpc.noaa.gov – Aurora Forecast
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