Written by CNN Staff Writer
Any stargazer needs to have watched the Northern Lights at least once, but finding a spot to gaze at the stunning spectacles of the natural phenomenon can be tricky.
An optical phenomenon sparked by a collision of charged particles between the Earth and the sun, the Northern Lights occur sporadically around the world — and can be seen throughout Europe, northern Africa and Siberia.
What makes them even more striking is the fact that they can be seen up to 300 miles (480 kilometers) away.
Spectators expect the giant explosions of light to erupt regularly during the Antarctic winter, but because new satellites such as the Iridium Next have not been deployed, the aurora may remain unshown.
Stunning views of Aurora Borealis from Iland (Steve Bryson / UIG / Getty Images)
But from January, thousands of people can escape the Arctic chill to check out the dazzling light show for themselves, thanks to a number of “chicken-n-egg” events that create the clear skies that enable the first sightings to occur.
These include moon-fullings, high-altitude migrations from the North Pole and natural seasonal time changes.
According to Dr. Alan Duffy, a Scot who runs the Aurora Borealis website Northern Lights Magazine, he expects these events to be bigger than ever during the winter months, given that the vast green light show of St. Anthony’s Day on January 4 — which marks the birth of Christ in the Holy Land — tends to be reduced by a winter snowfall.
“What we expect to see during the winter months are flares of energy from the sun that have no bearing on Earth,” said Duffy, who was among the first to detect the phenomenon for Europe, after he captured the first “event” on the 25th anniversary of his arrival to the continent in 1987.
Duffy believes these events are generated by solar radiation and magnetic fields. This energy will collide with a layer of gas above the Earth called the magnetosphere, driving the Aurora Borealis to form.
While the phenomenon is easily visible in some places, particularly in northern Europe, much of Russia is covered in thick Arctic frost, as is Siberia. However, crucially, very cold temperatures aren’t necessary for the Aurora to be seen.
“The whole region is capable of seeing it, however, a significant group of views are lacking,” said Duffy.
Most of the audiences will be concentrated in the “borderlands of the Arctic Ocean, Iceland, Norway and perhaps Greenland.” “This means you have a huge number of views across the northern half of Europe and Eurasia, but you can only see the northern lights from these great spots due to the fact that the polar ice caps are more active than the western Arctic, and the dark ice cap stretches across to the North Pole,” said Duffy.
Could you still see it this winter? Well, it’s best to join a guided tour if you don’t mind a six-hour round trip from Iceland. But even then, it’s unlikely you will receive the spectacular images you’ve been used to seeing over the decades.