The Northern Lights / Aurora Borealis
A North Dakota Perspective

By Lyndon Anderson

The Northern Lights in North Dakota 

The Northern Lights are mostly confined to areas where few people live such as Antarctica, northern and eastern Canada, northern Russia, Alaska, Iceland and northern Scandinavia. 

Why? The geomagnetic north pole is located in northern Canada, about 1,000 miles south of the geographic north pole at Ellesmere Island in northern Canada.

This is very positive for North Dakota as the auroral oval is further south in North America as compared to Europe. For example, in Bismarck, at 47 degrees latitude, we can see approximately the same strength display as someone in southern Finland, at about 60 degrees latitude.

The above photographs were taken on October 21, 2001,
October 28, 2001, March 18, 2002 & November 5, 2001.

While the northern lights displays are typically stronger up north, don't be dismayed. There is one advantage that North Dakota has over the higher latitudes. Alaska and northern Canada lose their dark night sky from much of April to August, whereas, the skies in North Dakota are dark year-round, so there is potential to see displays year round here, including some of the big ones. 

Also, during real strong displays, North Dakotans can sometimes see the northern lights in every direction, whereas in states further south, residents there can only see them looking north.

It might seem hard to believe, but the northern lights are present on the earth somewhere at all times usually in the higher latitudes.

Also, I have read some information where the northern lights can be seen on about 20 percent of the dark, clear nights in North Dakota.

The northern lights can be present anytime from towards the end of dusk to just after the beginning of dawn, with the best activity on average during the hours around midnight. They are typically seen in the northeast and northern parts of the sky in North Dakota, but that can vary with each show.

The northern lights can be seen any night of the year, but the odds increase in the spring and fall when earth's and sun's magnetic fields are most aligned. The northern lights are more likely to be seen further south at that time.

Also, the northern lights can be seen every year, but typically, there is more activity during and just after the peak years of the 11-year solar cycle.


Page 1 - Overview of Information in Online Brochure
Page 2 - An Aurora Chasing Story
Page 3 - Beauty of the Northern Lights
Page 4 - Science of the Northern Lights / Resources
This is Page 5 - The Northern Lights in North Dakota
Page 6 - Northern Lights Forecasts
Page 7 - Putting it all Together
Page 8 - Photographing the Northern Lights
Page 9 - Okay, So You Have Photographs, Now What?

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