You already know that the northern lights are an absolute must-see bucket list item. However, it's a tricky thing to plan. The aurora doesn't appear on a schedule, and to give yourself the best shot at seeing the display, you need to go to specific places and specific times of the year. Moreover, it's extra tricky when the solar cycle is near its minimum, as it is now.
Alaska Airlines flies to a pretty damn good place to see the lights. (Hint: It's right there in its name.) So, the airline has put together a strange sale that can take you from anywhere the airline serves in the lower 48 states to Anchorage or Fairbanks in Alaska with discounts dictated by solar activity (the very thing that causes the northern lights to happen). In the sale, you can get up to 35% off a flight depending on the level of solar activity in the forecast.
Yeah, there's a lot going on there. We can help clarify what's going on because it's a sale worth looking into if you want to see the northern lights.
Starting January 13, you can get discounts based on the Kp Index readings taken by the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute's aurora forecast. (The Kp Index is one of the measures that helps scientists to determine the potential for aurora activity.) The sale will run through midnight on January 17 and is valid for travel from January 13 to February 12.
Here's how your discount is determined, according to the terms and conditions of the sale. The discount is selected by the "highest Kp level in the current ... 27-day aurora forecast for Alaska." The discounts breakdown like this:
0 to 3 Kp = 15% off
4 to 5 Kp = 20% off
6 to 7 Kp = 25% off
8 to 9 Kp = 35% off
"Everyone loves a lighter fare," Natalie Bowman, Alaska Airlines’ managing director, marketing and advertising, said in a statement. "As the airline that helps savvy adventurers explore from Alaska to Latin America, we’re excited to harness the brainpower of aurora researchers to fulfill guests’ wanderlust goals. This is just the start of how we’ll use dynamic data in the future to appeal to our flyers’ passions."
However, just because the Kp Index is high does not mean you're guaranteed to see the northern lights. Nonetheless, January in Alaska is a pretty good time and place to go hunting for an aurora sighting. Whatever your travel dates inside this sale, you've got a chance of seeing the aurora. But nothing is guaranteed. Finding the northern lights is a bit like going whale-watching. Set yourself up with the best opportunity and then hope things go your way.
It's a nice little push to get going on finally seeing the display. However you manage to make it happen, it's worth seeing.