‘Exceptionally bright and just beautiful to watch’: how to see the northern lights in Manitoba

Manitobans have been treated to a spectacular show in the sky over the last few days as the aurora borealis – otherwise known as the northern lights – have been particularly active.

“They were exceptionally bright and just beautiful to watch,” said Scott Young, Planetarium Astronomer at the Manitoba Museum. He says conditions for viewing the northern lights have been very good as of late. “It just perfectly coincided with the moon being out of the sky, so that brightness wasn’t there. Also some beautifully clear skies across southern Manitoba.”

Young says the reason for the increased activity is because the sun is more active right now. “The sun’s activity goes up and down over a roughly 11-year cycle, and were kind of on the rise right now,” he said. “So we should be seeing more and more northern lights throughout the rest of the year and into next year.”

He says the phenomenon is a big deal for a lot of people. “The northern lights are something that a lot of people – particularly new Canadians – are very excited about,” said Young. “They may not have had a chance to see them before, and you see a lot of excitement when the northern lights are out.”

It can be a challenge to predict when the northern lights will appear, according to Young. He says it’s kind of like predicting the weather.

“The sun’s activity is very complicated, and the way it interacts with the earth and our magnetic field and our atmosphere is very complicated. It’s not something you can predict very far in advance,” he said.

For those looking to get away from the bright city lights to see more clearly, Young suggests going to Bird’s Hill Park, or any nearby park where there is less light pollution.

“Really you want to get away from lights, particularly the main lights of the city, and also any local light, so you don’t want to park under a street light or in a parking lot or something like that,” said Young.

He says the darker the sky is, the better chance you have of seeing the northern lights.

“The great thing about the northern lights is, if someone in Manitoba can see them, everyone in Manitoba can see them as long as they’re in a dark area. You don’t have to drive far distances, you just have to get away from local lights,” said Young.

But he does stress the need for safety while you are out observing the night’s sky.

“When you’re driving at night, you have to be watching the road and not the sky, you have to go somewhere that is public property, don’t go trespassing or stopping in the middle of the road or things like that,” said Young. “You want to make sure that wherever you are, you’re going to be observing safe.”

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