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Four ways to view the northern lights in winter in Manitoba

Churchill Northern Lights

Four ways to view the northern lights in winter in Manitoba

This post was originally published on the Travel Manitoba websiteExternal Link Title.


It's midnight and -30 degrees Celsius. The sky is clear and the darkness is thick. A fluorescent green swirl unfurls across the black. Suddenly the entire sky illuminates with ethereal sheets of emerald green. Witnessing the aurora borealis above Churchill, Manitoba is an awe-inspiring spectacle that'll leave you feeling insignificant when compared to the grandness of the Universe.


Churchill, located in northern Manitoba's subarctic along the Hudson Bay, sits directly below the Auroral Oval and boasts nearly 300 days per year of aurora viewing. Optimal season for chasing Northern Lights is during the depths of winter, which makes it an adventure for intrepid photographers and outdoor lovers. So while the north wind howls across the tundra, tuck into ones of these heated vessels in Churchill to take in nature's magical light show: an Aurora Dome, an Aurora Pod, an Aurora Lounge or the Churchill Northern Studies Centre.


What are the Northern Lights?

One of nature’s greatest phenomena, the Northern Lights are caused by geomagnetic storms that cause solar wind from the sun to move toward the Earth. The Earth’s magnetic field protects the planet and in turn, causes a collision of atoms and molecules into the atmosphere. These tiny light sources, protons, make up the aurora that can be seen with the naked eye in the zone called the Auroral Oval, under which Churchill is located. 


When can you see the Northern Lights?


The Northern Lights tend to be stronger and more visible in the cold months — particularly February and March — because cloud cover is generally not a threat during these cold, precipitation-free nights (that is not to say you will not see them in warmer months). To see the Northern Lights, you need the following criteria: an increase in solar storms on the sun; clear skies; a location under the Auroral Oval (which means a strong KP index); and an absence of light pollution.


View them from an active Arctic research centre

The Churchill Northern Studies Centre is an operational research centreExternal Link Title located 30 minutes from the town of Churchill and provides travellers with the an affordable option for those seeking the Northern Lights. When the Northern Lights come out around midnight, the lights of CNSC are shut off to prevent any light pollution. There are a few options for viewing the aurora borealis, from the heated dome at the top of the building's central staircase to the outdoor observation deck.


In the Aurora Lounge with Frontiers North Adventures

Frontiers North AdventuresExternal Link Title offers a Northern Lights and Winter Nights guided tour departing from Winnipeg, during which most aurora viewing happens from their oh-so-cozy Aurora LoungeExternal Link Title that is parked across the frozen Churchill River near the edge of the boreal forest. Guests are transported to the Aurora Lounge via the Tundra Buggy, a behemoth all-terrain vehicle used during polar bear viewing season, which expertly maneuvers the snowdrifts and ice hummocks on the river. Escape the comfort of the lounge by viewing the lights on the observation deck, or even disembark the vessel to experience them in a wide-open space.


From the Aurora Pod with Natural Habitat Adventures

A Northern Lights package trip booked with Nat HabExternal Link Title gets exclusive access to the warm and comfortable Aurora Pod, which has been custom designed for viewing the Aurora Borealis with a nearly 360-degree view of the sky via innovative glass walls and roof, and cushioned seating. There are two Nat Hab packages to select from, the Northern Lights & Arctic Cultures tourExternal Link Title and the Northern Lights Photography tourExternal Link Title.


Through an Aurora Dome

For the independent traveller, Churchill Hotel's prized Aurora Domes are another way to view the Northern Lights while being protected from the elements. These Plexiglas bubblesExternal Link Title pop up on the tundra, located about 10 minutes from town, so there is no light pollution to obscure the view. Contact the Churchill Hotel for nightly viewing rates.