Northern Lights Best Viewed At Sea, On A Yacht, French Style

northern lightsConsidering a trip to see the Northern Lights? This year may very well be the best time to go. 2013 is the height of the 11-year solar cycle. September and October offer peak activity. They can be seen in Alaska, Norway, Finland and Canada on a clear night. Better yet, try viewing on a ship at sea.

Common tips for viewing the Northern Lights say to go North, inside the Arctic circle, bring along a good guide and get away from light produced by cities and towns. That’s exactly what Compagnie du Ponant, a little French-flagged cruise line is doing this autumn for one of the best aurora borealis viewing opportunities possible.

Specializing in expedition sailings to the poles, Compagnie du Ponant sails small ships that feature custom technology designed to preserve fragile marine ecosystems.
northern lightsThe 15-day sailing begins in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, on September 5, 2013 and ends in Quebec, Canada, whose old town is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. Bringing along naturalists and experienced guides, passengers will get prepared for what they are about to see with background information and lectures about the origins, myths and mysticism on the way.A 10-year veteran of the Arctic, Compagnie du Ponant knows the best places to see the northern lights. Their luxury 264-passenger yacht Le Boreal will sail to the heart of the northernmost territory in Canada where passengers will view the polar lights from the bridge of the ship.

As if viewing the Northern Lights in near-absolute darkness was not enough, the voyage will visit a number of other trip-of-a-lifetime quality places like the village of Sisimiut in Greenland as well as the Inuit land of Nunavut, also a prime viewing location. There will be whale watching in the Baffin Sea and Saint Lawrence, white bears to see on Akpatok Island and a stop in Perce, known for its rock and Northern Gannets. To see all that, the state-of-the-art Le Boreal is complemented with a fleet of expedition Zodiac boats outfitted with satellite tracking.

On board, passengers will find five-star French service, including a choice of 132 staterooms or suites with sea views and private balconies, restaurants offering dining from casual to fine, a bar and lounge, and 24-hour in-room dining. There is also an outdoor pool with bar, panoramic terrace adjoining the indoor bar and lounge, library with Internet stations, medical center, Wi-Fi, in-room and on-board flat screen satellite TV with complimentary on-demand movies.

The all-inclusive experience is priced from $8,922 per person, based on double occupancy, flights included.

Want more on the Northern Lights? Check this video taken from the International Space Station:



[Photo credit – Flickr user Moyan_Brenn]

Northern Lights Just One Reason To Visit Iceland

Northern Lights

The northern lights are a natural light display that occurs in the high latitude regions of our planet. Alaska is one of the best places to see the northern lights, especially in September and March when skies are dark and temperatures mild for comfortable viewing. Iceland is also a good place to view the display and offers some unique advantages.

One of several astronomical phenomena called “polar lights” (aurora polaris), northern lights, (Aurora Borealis) are caused by the collision of energetic charged particles with atoms in the high altitude atmosphere. Iceland is located directly under the main concentration of the northern lights annulus, the so-called Great Belt, an oval cosmic light that goes around earth off-axis.northern lightsIn Iceland, located midway between Europe and North America, and with direct flight routes from both continents, northern lights can be viewed from October through March in a number of ways.

Self-drive tours, winter Jeep expeditions and organized group excursions are popular and offered by a variety of tour operators.

But northern lights are a natural phenomenon and sightings can never be guaranteed, so having a backup plan when visiting is a good idea. Actually, for many travelers, the backup plan is their main focus and viewing the northern lights is icing on the cake.

The Golden Circle is a popular tourist route in south Iceland, looping from Reykjavík into central Iceland and back over about 300 kilometers.

Stops on the route, any one alone worth a visit, include Þingvellir national park, the Gullfoss waterfall, and the geothermally active valley of Haukadalur as well as the Kerið volcano crater/lake, Hveragerði greenhouse village, Skálholt church, and the Nesjavellir geothermal power plant.

Can’t make it to Alaska or Iceland? NorthernLightsIceland.com has a webcam set up and will broadcast the northern lights live when they happen. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter then watch for a post or tweet when their UStream feed is active.

In this time-lapse video we see a number of attractions in Iceland from Iceland Explorer Travel Guide that also has an iPhone app for exploring.


[Flickr photos by Gunnsi]

15 Super Shots Of Nature Reflected On Water

crystal lake, colorado The richness I achieve comes from nature,
the source of my inspiration.
- Claude Monet

It’s true. There are not many things on this planet as inspiring as nature. Vibrant colors, enormous peaks, crystal lakes, animals in the wilderness and natural phenomena you have to see to believe exist in a world far away from the intimidating skyscrapers and chaotic lifestyles of busy cities. Spending time in these uninhabited areas can calm your mind and help get your positivity flowing.

While beautiful to look at on its own, there’s something extra moving about viewing a mountain, forest or sky as a reflection on the water. It adds to the aesthetics as well as makes the setting that much more majestic and intense. Luckily, for those who don’t have time to take off work and head into the wilderness, the photographers in the gallery below were able to capture moving shots of nature reflected on water to share with others.

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[Image above via Jessie on a Journey; Gallery images via Big Stock, Beverly & Pack, slobirdr, marissa_strniste]

5 Of The World’s Best Places For Viewing The Night Skies

milky wayIf you grow up in Southern California, school field trips to the Griffith Observatory are practically a requirement. For whatever reason, I always found the Planetarium more frightening than enlightening, especially in the sixth grade, when David Fink threw up on me on the bus ride home.

Despite many youthful camping trips with my family, I also can’t recall ever paying attention to the night skies (possibly because many of these trips were in the cloudy Pacific Northwest). Fast-forward 20-odd years, and to a solo camping trip on Kauai’s North Shore. It was my last night and the rainclouds had finally blown away. I stared up at the starry sky awestruck. It’s the first time l ever really noticed the stars, due to the lack of light and environmental pollution. I’ve been a stargazer ever since, and coincidentally, many of my travels have taken me to some of the world’s best locations for it.

Below, my picks for top-notch night skies, no student chaperone required:

Atacama Desert
, Chile

This stark, Altiplano region in Chile’s far north is the driest desert on earth, as well as home to the some of the clearest night skies on the planet. You don’t need anything (other than perhaps a great camera) to appreciate the stars, but a stargazing tour, offered by various hotels, hostels and outfitters throughout the town of San Pedro de Atacama, is well worth it.

I highly recommend the Astronomy Tour offered by the Alto Atacama Hotel & Spa, located just outside of San Pedro proper. For hotel guests only, this two-year-old program is led by one of the property’s guides, a naturalist and astronomer. The hotel has its own observation deck and a seriously badass telescope; you won’t be disappointed even if stargazing isn’t your thing. In addition to learning the constellations of ancient Quechua myth such as the Llama and Condor, you’ll have incredible views of the Milky Way, and be able to see telescopic images of Sirius and Alpha Centauri with a lens so powerful you can actually see a ring of flame flickering from their surface.

%Gallery-157717%alto atacama observatoryExmouth, Western Australia
Uluru (aka the former Ayers Rock, which now goes by its Aboriginal name) is considered Australia’s best stargazing, due to its location in exactly the middle of nowhere. In reality, the Outback in general has night skies completely untainted by pollution. But as I’ve discovered after many years of visiting Australia, the only bad places to stargaze are urban areas. The skies are also stellar above remote coastal regions, most notably in Western Australia (which is vast and sparsely populated).

The best skies I’ve seen are in Exmouth, located along the Ningaloo Reef. At Sal Salis, a coastal luxury safari camp, an observation platform and stargazing talk will help you make sense of the Southern sky. Be prepared for striking views of the Milky Way stretching across the horizon, seemingly close enough to touch.
mauna kea
Mauna Kea, Hawaii
In 1991, the year of the Total Solar Eclipse, hundreds of thousands of visitors flocked to the Big Island’s Mauna Kea Observatory – located at the top of the volcano – to watch the sky grow dark mid-morning. I was waiting tables on Maui, so all I noticed was a brief dimming, in conjunction with some of my tables pulling a dine-and-dash. A visit to the volcano, however, will assure you stunning views if you take a Sunset and Stargazing Tour offered by Mauna Kea Summit Adventures. Day visitors can hike, and even ski in winter.

Bryce Canyon, Utah
This national park, known for its bizarre rock spires (called “hoodoos”) and twisting red canyons, is spectacular regardless of time of day or season. On moonless nights, however, over 7,500 stars are visible, and park rangers and volunteer astronomers lead Night Sky programs that include multimedia presentations and high-power telescopes; schedules and topics change with the seasons.
aurora borealis
Churchill, Manitoba
Located on the southwestern shore of Hudson Bay on the fringe of the Arctic Circle, the village of Churchill is famous for three things: polar bears, beluga whales and the Northern Lights. Its location beneath the Auroral Oval means the “best and most Northern Lights displays on the planet,” according to Churchill’s website, and you don’t need to sign up for a tour to enjoy the show. Save that for the polar bear viewing.

[Photo credits: Atacama, Frank Budweg; Mauna Kea, Flickr user sambouchard418;Aurora Borealis, Flickr user Bruce Guenter]

Video: Northern Lights over Norway

It has been an unusual year for solar activity. Strong solar flares have had an impact on travel and communications around the globe, but they have also made for some spectacular light shows across the night sky as well.

Take for example the images captured in the time-lapse video below. It was shot in Norway where the northern lights are common but this year they have been exceptionally breathtaking. The images are simply amazing and will leave you longing to see aurora borealis for yourself.


Aurora Timelapse. Fire in the sky.” by Anna Possberg on Vimeo.