The Recipe for
1 Part High Geomagnetic Activity
1 Part Luck
Mix well, cross your fingers, and get outside.
Clear Dark Skies
This may sound obvious, but it's the most essential ingredient for this recipe. Of course, this can be broken down even further to location, moon phase, and weather.
Location plays a massive role in the darkness of our night skies. The North Shore of Lake Superior hosts some of Minnesota's darkest skies due to its high latitude and low light pollution. Check out this light pollution map for more information.
Next up is the moon phase. As pretty as the full moon is - it makes it a lot harder to spot the northern lights. The slimmer the moon, the better your chances are of seeing the aurora.
Lastly and least predictably - we need clear skies! A cloudy night will ruin 100% of aurora watchers evenings. For the best chance of seeing the aurora on your vacation - watch the extended forecast and book in the last 10-14 days.
High Geomagnetic Activity
Like so many other things in our solar system, the sun is the source of our northern lights. When solar flares send tons of plasma hurtling through space, and that plasma interacts with our planet's magnetic field, we get pretty lights in the sky.
For a quick (5 minute) explainer - watch this video from NASA about how the northern lights come to be.
Geomagnetic activity is measured on a scale of 0 (low activity) to 9 (extreme activity) on the KP index. For the north shore of Lake Superior - 5 is the magic number. That's the minimum we need to be able to see the northern lights. Keep an eye on the index with NOAA's Aurora Forecast.
Unfortunately, this is the least predictable ingredient because the solar storms are infinitely more challenging to predict than next year's snowfall in Lutsen. Which is why you also need:
Because so many variables have to align just right, we never suggest people plan a vacation around seeing the aurora. But always check the forecasts before you arrive - because you may luck into a light show that few people get to enjoy in person.
Of course, you can always increase your odds of spotting the northern lights by booking within a few days of a new moon on a clear day.
New Moons for 2023