Minnesota is home to one of nature’s most incredible phenomena: the aurora borealis. For thousands of years, people have been coming up with imaginative ways to explain those waving lights shimmering across the northern sky.
In Finland, people believed they were caused by a fire fox who ran across the sky, his tail leaving a trail of fire burning in the night sky. The Inuit believed it was the spirits of the dead, playing a game with one another. Even today, parents will tell their kids that the lights are messages sent from another planet, or light reflecting off distant glaciers. Technically, scientists tell us the lights are a result of a collision between the gases in the earth’s atmosphere with charged particles from the sun.
Whatever the explanation, one thing is certain: The aurora borealis are spectacular, and truly something you need to see to believe.
Good thing you’re taking that trip up to Ely.
Here are the best ways to see them
You need darkness. This means you need to get away from the city, away from the light pollution that makes walking at night easier, but blots out the stars and makes the aurora borealis dim.
There are few places in the lower U.S. that are not affected by light pollution. Fortunately, Northern Minnesota is one of those rare gems where you can see glorious displays of stars and the northern lights.
So the first thing you need to do is get up to Ely.
When should I see them?
While it's hard to give a long-term forecast with any accuracy, NOAA does have a nifty tool that measures various atmospheric conditions to give a three-day forecast for the borealis in the northern and southern hemispheres. But is there a perfect time of year?
Aurora borealis aficionados will tell you the best time to see the lights is in the winter. The longer nights mean there are more hours of darkness and hence, more opportunity to see the lights.
However, there's no shortage of people who have looked up from their campfire or looked out from their deck and watched the auroras dance and flash over the sky.
If you’ve stood under a night sky and looked up at the waves of purple and green above you, you'll understand why people travel from all over the world to see the northern lights.
Ely has great viewing opportunities, so why put it off another year? Make this the year that you witness one of nature's truly spectacular shows.