The bright dancing lights of the aurora are actually collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth's atmosphere. The lights are seen above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres.

Auroras that occur in the northern hemisphere are called ‘Aurora Borealis’ or ‘northern lights’ and auroras that occur in the southern hempishere are called ‘Aurora Australis’ or ‘southern lights’

Because the phenomena occurs near the magnetic poles, getting as close to these poles as possible will rapidly increase the chances of viewing aurora. As the magnetic south pole is in Antarctica, unless your a scientist working there, it usually leaves the northern hemisphere the most sensible option of viewing aurora. It should be mentioned however that during strong solar storms, aurora australis are quite often visible in places south from Australia. But generally speaking, the best places to watch the aurora are usually are North America or Europe.

One of the most difficult problems in solar physics is knowing the shape of a magnetic field in a coronal mass ejection (CME), which is basically a huge blob of charged particles ejected from the sun. Such CMEs have their own magnetic fields. The problem is, it is nigh impossible to tell in what direction the CME field is pointing until it hits. A hit creates either a spectacular magnetic storm and dazzling aurora with it, or a fizzle. Currently there's no way to know ahead of time.


What are the Northern Lights?

The Northern Lights filmed in real time above Reykjavík