If seeing the northern lights is on your wish list, 2024 may be the year to check it off that list.
Liz MacDonald, a space scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, says 2024 will be a prime viewing year to see the natural phenomenon. The northern lights, also known as aurora borealis, occur when solar winds with electrically charged particles enter the Earth’s magnetic field. The particles collide with atmospheric gases to create blue, green, red and violet curtains of light in the sky. “The sun is entering its most active time, called solar maximum, which means the northern lights will be more strong and frequent than usual,” MacDonald says. “This will be the first solar maximum where people’s cellphones can capture the lights easily, which means great opportunities to share these photos … and help others get accurate, real-time alerts of visibility.”
Keep in mind that clear and dark skies are the magic ingredients needed for the celestial event to reveal itself. In the United States, head to the far north for the best possible viewing chances from September 2024 through April 2025.
“Activity is expected to steadily increase until fall 2024, when the lights will be at their brightest,” says Mark Miesch, a scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and a researcher at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
Although there is no guarantee you will see the northern lights, you can get information on visibility conditions before you go. For example, Aurorasaurus, founded by MacDonald, offers enthusiasts accurate, real-time alerts of visibility. NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction System Aurora tracker provides 30- to 90-minute forecasts.
To increase your chances of seeing the northern lights in the U.S., consider a trip to the following locations.