Aurora 'solar minimum' good news for the North, bad news for everywhere else, expert says

The aurora borealis is going to go into a shortage mode for the next few years, but Northern cities will be as glow-rious as ever, says an aurora expert.

'Everybody in the North will see the northern lights either more, or more frequently at solar minimum'

An awe-inspiring aurora show over the Dempster Highway. (submitted by Kristian Binder)

The aurora borealis is going into a shortage mode for the next few years, but Yellowknife and other Northern cities will remain as glow-rious as ever — maybe even more so, says a world expert on the aurora.

Every 11 years, the solar cycle of the sun goes into "solar minimum," a period when there is less solar flare activity on the sun. This generally means people on Earth will see less northern lights in the sky.

One expert says that will be the case for southern Canadian regions, such as Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan, but the North is still in luck.

Northern lights in Inuvik, N.W.T. (submitted by Kristian Binder)

"Right now, if you want to see the aurora, you can go to Edmonton and Athabaska and pretty reliably see the aurora. In two or three years, that won't be the case," said Eric Donovan, professor with the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Calgary.

At the moment, the solar cycle is in a period of "solar maximum," Donovan said, the aurora isn't as frequent in places like Yellowknife because the aurora tends to spread and move toward the equator.

"What's going to happen is the aurora will retreat North to where it usually is, but be there more regularly, more routinely."

Whitehorse and Yellowknife aurora sweet spots

In particular, cities that fall on the 67th degree of geomagnetic latitude will see the aurora most frequently.
Sometimes, you don't need a headlamp. Jan Barbier took this dreamlike photo on Yellowknife's Ingraham Trail. (submitted by Jan Barbier)

This latitude differs from geographical latitudes, says Donovan.

The 67th geomagnetic degree goes from Fairbanks in Alaska to Whitehorse, Yellowknife, then down to Churchill, Manitoba and up to Greenland. These will be the prime places to see the aurora during the solar minimum, says Donovan.

So this aurora "shortage" could mean good news for Northern tourism.

"Everybody in the North will see the northern lights either more, or more frequently at solar minimum."

However, Donovan says forecasting the aurora still has "a ways to go."

"The aurora is less predictable than the weather," said Donovan. "We are getting better, but I would say we're a ways away from reliably being able to say… at these latitudes, there will be an aurora tonight."

with files from Peter Sheldon, Loren McGinnis


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