Stream the Northern Lights from Your Home Tonight (and Every Night)
Can't make it to Alaska? Watch the northern lights from your couch instead.
The northern lights might be the only absolute, must-see bucket list travel item that exists in the sky. The aurora and stargazing have been an alluring activity through long stretches of social distancing. Still, no matter what's happening, looking up into the night sky can be a rewarding activity. That is especially true when you manage to catch the elusive northern lights.
The sun has been active early in the fall of 2021, providing hope of seeing the northern lights further south than usual. That's encouraging for people in the Northern US who want to spot the bucket list display without planning a vacation. But those opportunities are rare and don't always work out. In the absence of organizing an Arctic adventure, you can take a mini-trip right from your home. Every evening, Polar Bears International and Explore.org stream the night sky. (The stream is visible in the video player below.) You can camp out at home and wait for the sky to light up just like you might see in Sweden, Iceland, or, possibly, the northern edge of Manitoba on the Hudson Bay, where the camera is situated at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre.
The peak season for the stream is in the late winter and early spring. But the stream is running throughout the year, and there are opportunities to see the northern lights through their camera in the fall and late spring when there are shorter nights than in the dead of winter. (Explore.org stream occasionally plays some highlights from previous streams where the sky provided impressive displays.)
It might seem easy enough to stream the sky, but BJ Kirschhoffer, director of field operations with Polar Bears International, explained to Thrillist by email that it's more complicated than you might expect.
"The system that makes the northern lights cam work is extremely complex," he said. "We shoot the internet over 51 miles of tundra to bring these streams to people all over the world. Not only does the system require sophisticated equipment but also partnerships. Polar Bears International and Explore.org work with the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, Parks Canada, Frontiers North Adventures, and the local school system to make this all work."
The stream is in its ninth year of operation but has seen viewership growth since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"When originally conceived, our goal was to utilize our existing infrastructure to provide a view showcasing another one of nature's totally amazing phenomenons to anyone curious enough to click a link and explore on the internet," Kirschhoffer said in 2020. "In the current situation where people are encouraged or even forced to stay at home because of COVID-19, I think the aurora camera and the other explore cams offer people a taste of nature where they may not otherwise have the opportunity."
If you're longing for the zen nature provides, you can still sit outside at night and stare up at the stars. However, if you want one of the best shows you can see in the sky, tune into the stream and hope you picked a good night to chase the aurora.