Northern Lights

Watching The Lights: A Guide To Viewing The Northern Lights In Manitoulin

Manitoulin Island is an amazing place for many reasons, but one thing very special to us is seeing the aurora borealis, better known to some as the Northern Lights. Northern parts of Ontario are some of the best places to see the light show, and Manitoulin Island is one of the most accessible of these destinations! 

This is because the Island is at a latitude with a consistently high Kp value while not being so far north as to be unreachable for most Ontarians. But what is a Kp value, and what causes the Northern Lights anyway?

What Causes The Northern Lights, And What Is “Kp Value”?

The Northern Lights (or, when they appear below the Equator, the Southern Lights or aurora australis) start with the high amount of charged particles flowing out from the Sun and around our planet. The constant stream of particles is called “solar wind,” and most of it is stopped by the Earth’s magnetic field; however, the magnetic field is weaker towards the North and South Poles. When the solar wind gets past it, the charged particles hit our planet’s atmosphere, and this impact causes the electrons to move towards and away from the nucleus of the particle. The result is the release of light, and on such a massive scale, it becomes a beautiful show!

When looking to see the Northern Lights, it’s important to know the Kp value at the time. The Kp Index describes the disturbance of the Earth’s magnetic field caused by the solar wind, and it uses a scale of numbers between zero and nine. The higher the Kp value, the greater the chances you’ll get to see the lights, and if you’re in a zone that is measured at 5 or 6, seeing the lights is very likely. You’ll find apps and websites that tell you the Kp value of the night.

Canada’s position on the planet – and where Manitoulin Island is in Canada – makes it an ideal destination to see the Northern Lights! However, some places here are better than others. 

The Best Place And Time: Gordon Park In The Fall

When hunting for a glimpse at the beautiful curtains of light that make up the Northern Lights, you want as clear and dark a sky as possible. It’s the reason why you’ll want to trek to Gordon Park for a view – this is a dark sky preserve on Manitoulin Island. Dark sky preserves allow no artificial light pollution near them, letting astronomers and amateur stargazers see more of the night sky.
There is no official “season” for seeing the Northern Lights because they almost always present, even during the day. Astronauts get a good view of them above our atmosphere almost all the time! However, there is an ideal time to spot the aurora borealis, and this is roughly between August and October. Watch the local weather network to see if the skies are clear on the night you want to spot them!

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