The Northern Lights – An otherworldly experience
Way back in 1958, an absolutely massive solar flare resulted in the Northern Lights being visible as far south as Mexico City. By all accounts, the emergency services were inundated with panicky calls from residents who thought the dancing lights in the sky heralded an extraterrestrial invasion!!
You have to see the Northern Lights up close and personal to understand why the good people of Mexico City reacted in the way they did.
Stand on a frozen Arctic lake and watch curtains of ethereal light shimmering and billowing overhead. It soon becomes apparent why Stone Age or Iron Age man might have believed Mother Nature's hypnotic light show to be the spirits of the departed or celestial warriors engaged in combat of the immortals.
Solar Maximum – You Have Not Missed Out!
The sun's magnetic field changes polarity approximately every 11 years. It happens at the peak of each solar cycle as the sun's inner magnetic dynamo reorganises itself. On 06 December 2013, NASA predicted that the sun’s polarity would flip sometime in December which would herald the peak of the current Solar Cycle 24. This peak in the sun’s activity is known as the ‘Solar Maximum’.
Solar Maximum is the period during which the Northern Lights tend to be at their strongest and most frequent.
At the time of writing (30 Dec 13) and despite reports to the contrary in certain parts of the media, NASA has not yet announced that we have reached Solar Maximum.
Both NASA and the Goddard Space Centre have announced that the Sun’s polarity has finally flipped. Don’t worry; it sounds dramatic, but this is a natural, recurring phenomenon and totally harmless! The flip in polarity heralds the peak of Solar Cycle 24 and signifies the mid-point in this particular Solar Maximum (the period when the Northern Lights are historically at their most frequent and spectacular).
Basically, what the experts are saying is that half of the Solar Maximum is behind us but the other half, very possibly the better half, still lies ahead.
Two of the NOAA/NASA Solar Cycle Prediction Panel’s leading panellists believe that the current solar cycle will start to decline in 2015, but note that their own research suggests that major solar flares and noteworthy geomagnetic activity normally occur as a solar cycle declines.
The midnight sun in Scandinavia means that the Northern Lights won’t be visible until late August and early September. So when is the best time to go?