With its Arctic climate and desolate, rocky landscape, icy Greenland isn't a typical travel destination. That is precisely what drew award-winning explorer and photographer Paul Zizka to camp out on an ice cap and capture one of Greenland's natural phenomena, the Aurora Borealis, aka Northern Lights.
Ilulissat gave us the traditional green welcome tonight. It's so good to be back in Greenland! ©Paul Zizka
Another crazy night in Greenland, as the aurora pours down onto the ice giants below.©Paul Zizka
According to NASA, "all auroras are caused by energetic particles—typically electrons—speeding down into Earth's atmosphere and colliding brilliantly with the atoms and molecules in the air." Although auroras can be spotted in an array of colors, pink and pale green lights are seen most often.
More than 80 percent of Greenland is covered by an ice cap that is almost two and a half miles thick, although it is melting 7 percent faster than previously thought. This remote nation is the world's largest island and the superb air quality may also enhance its auroras.
Heads up! A self-portrait from Greenland. ©Paul Zizka
The Aurora dances above a winter wonderland during a spectacular night in Yellowknife, Canada.©Paul Zizka
Zizka has said this job as a photographer requires a great deal of patience. "Shooting the Northern Lights almost always means waiting for your moment of magic," he explained.
As an adventurer, Zizka is drawn to "under-documented" locales. Between balmy French Polynesia and back to his hometown of Banff, Canada, landscape photography has brought him around the world. From Greenland to northern Minnesota to the "bitter cold of Northern Canada" to Iceland, Zizka has followed the trail of the Northern Lights across multiple countries, with more to come in the future. He has trips planned to Antarctica and the Faroe Islands.
Exploring the shores of Iceland as we try to take in the indescribable scene unfolding before our eyes! ©Paul Zizka
Looking back to one of my most memorable nights spent in the Canadian mountains. ©Paul Zizka
On his website, Zizka states, "I believe there is in all human beings a deep connection with the natural environment. In these times, however, that link is often obscured by the capitalistic, hectic, materialistic and anthropocentric nature of our societies. My hope is that through my photography people will rediscover the precious connection they can have with the wonders of our planet. "
A sky of magic dances above Jasper Lake in Canada during a recent Aurora show. ©Paul Zizka
The Northern Lights are a sight to see this week and this may be your last chance to see it until the next peak in the solar cycle about 11 years from now.
In North America, the Northern Lights—or Aurora Borealis—are typically more common in the northwestern parts of Canada and Alaska, but forecasters say this time people as far south as the northern Michigan will be able to take in the beauty of the phenomena this week. Unfortunately, for those in southern Michigan, thunderstorms in the forecast will keep people there from seeing it.
A G2 (Moderate) Geomagnetic Storm Watch has been issued for Sept. 28-30 due to effects from the anticipated arrival of a recurrent coronal hole high speed stream.NOAA
People have been fascinated with the Northern Lights for thousands of years. In medieval times, the occurrences of auroral displays were seen as a sign of war or famine. Medieval Europeans considered them a sign from God, and Aboriginal people commonly saw aurora as "fires in the cosmos" or "fires created by sky spirits." Now, thanks to the modern astronomy, we now know what causes both the Aurora Borealis and its southern sibling, Aurora Australis.
The "standard" aurora is created by the solar wind—the particles streaming constantly from the sun—interacting with the Earth's magnetic field producing a pale, yellowish-green light that we perceive as wavy and dancing. When solar storms are stronger they can ramp up the Northern Lights considerably making them visible over much wider areas, space.com said. Last year, for example, a strong solar storm allowed people as far south as Illinois and Ohio to catch a glimpse of the lights.
10 Stunning Photos of Rare #NorthernLights (And How to Take Your Own) https://t.co/tqasm8tf0r @sierraclub @NWF @WWF https://t.co/yW4yhVpnzG— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1446581184.0
While this phenomena occurs year-round, you can see them almost nightly during the winter and spring months in places that are closer to the northern and southern poles where the Earth's magnetic field is weaker. This time of year is also ideal because it is generally less cloudy.
"Active periods are typically about 30 minutes long, and occur every two hours, if the activity is high," Charles Deehr wrote in the University of Alaska Fairbanks' Geophysical Institute's guide to aurora viewing.
Researchers also found that auroral activity is cyclic and peaks about every 11 years, which means more auroras will be visible south of the main auroral occurrence zone. The last peak of solar activity—or Solar Maximum—was in June 2014, and is very active for about two years prior to and after the maximum. The ideal time to see the lights is around 9.30 p.m. to 1 a.m., according to The Aurora Zone, but can be visible as early as 4 p.m. and as late as 6 a.m.
If you want a more exact time to catch the Northern Lights, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency provides 30-minute forecasts on auroras through their Space Weather Prediction Center. There is also an Android App, Aurora Alert, where you can get regular updates on when and where an aurora will be visible in your area.