After being at a standstill for several years, experts believe spectacular displays of the northern lights could become more frequent as solar activity looks like it’s ready to ramp up.
Scott Young, planetarium astronomer at the Manitoba Museum, said the 11-year solar cycle has been stuck in the solar minimum phase for longer than anticipated.
Solar minimum means the energy from the sun is at its lowest point.
“The sun has been at solar minimum for a number of years,” Young said. “We think it’s just starting to turn around based on what we’ve seen the last few months.”
As the cycle makes its way towards solar maximum, the chances of spotting the northern lights increases.
Solar particles, known as solar wind, makes its way towards earth, which is what is responsible for creating the light show.
“It’s kind of like wind blowing and hitting the earth’s atmosphere, except that wind doesn’t just move things around, it actually makes them glow in the dark,” Young said.
“Essentially what the lights are, are parts of our atmosphere glowing in the dark because they’re getting so much of this solar energy.”
Even at its brightest, Young said the northern lights aren’t actually that bright.
Dr. Bhairavi Shankar, Founder & CEO of Indus Space, suggests trying to catch a glimpse outside urban city centres.
“The best places to actually see are when you’re essentially out, away from any urban light, or even moonlight, so you want to have a new moon phase to be able to see these in their entirety and appreciate them,” Shankar said.
There are apps and websites to help track activity and better predict when and where the lights might be visible.
One of the best places to see the northern lights is in Churchill, Man.
Churchill photographer Ashley Park said she’s out capturing the lights about four times a week.
“Every time I go out and see a show I’m still amazed,” Park said.
“The adrenaline is just crazy, it’s hard to go to bed after shooting northern lights.”
Closer to Winnipeg, local photographer Anthony Urso said he’s noticed an increase in the bright sky shows just outside city limits.
“These past two months have been pretty frequent. It’s been almost every weekend,” Urso said.
“It’s the most beautiful thing on this earth, hands down.”