Modern science provides a far more rational explanation for the existence of the Northern Lights but when you are gazing spellbound as the lights dance their otherworldly dance it's not hard to feel an affinity with both our ancient ancestors and the inhabitants of Mexico's capital city.
Solar Maximum – The Aurora Borealis at its peak
Science has a role to play too and no less an authority than NASA has predicted recently that the sun will reach the peak of its 11 year activity cycle (Solar Maximum) in autumn 2013. The equation is simply, the more active the sun, the more likely it is that the Northern Lights will be visible and as you can see from our graph below (extrapolated from NASA's data), the next few winters should witness high solar activity.
The Best Lights for 50 Years – Please don't believe everything you read
Please don't believe those websites that are still suggesting that this Solar Maximum will herald the best Northern Lights for 50 years. This is incorrect. This maximum is predicted to be less intense than was previously thought but regardless, it still represents the best chance to see the Aurora Borealis in a decade.
Solar Cycle 24 – A double peak?
There is growing speculation that this particular cycle will see a rare "double peaked" Solar Maximum.
Solar physicist Dean Pesnell, a leading member of the NOAA/NASA Solar Cycle Prediction Panel, recently suggested that the current cycle (Solar Cycle 24) closely mirrors Solar Cycle 14 which occurred in the first decade of the 20th Century and was indeed, double peaked.
Pesnell comments that
"We may be seeing what happens when you predict a single amplitude and the sun responds with a double peak."
If this is the case, as seems likely, then he anticipates a peak in late 2013 and another in 2015.
Of course, nobody knows for sure what the sun is going to or when and where the Aurora Borealis will appear but in NASA's words
It seems likely, though, that the end of 2013 could be a lot livelier than the beginning.
We're hoping for great things and if last autumn and winter are anything to go by, we don't expect to be disappointed!