For many of us, we have heard of this phenomenon called the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights. Getting a chance to experience this natural light show is rare. Many people, like myself, have tried for years to get a glimpse of the Northern Lights and not had any luck in doing so.

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

What Causes the Northern Lights?

The reason the northern lights exist is a very scientific and technical explanation. The simple version is that these rare lights are the result of disturbances in the magnetosphere caused by the solar wind. For us to see the lights, it has to be a clear night and you have to be away from the light pollution normally found in the bigger cities. The northern lights typically only extend as far southward as the U.S./Canada border, but on rare occasions people further south will get a chance to see them.

It's Like Waiting for the the Great Pumpkin

For years I have kept an eye on the aurora forecast. The National Weather Service provides such a forecast. You can find their 30 minute forecast here. You can find a more long range forecast at

For the last decade there have been many times I have seen the forecast for a chance to see the northern lights to be very good. The weather forecast indicated that the skies were going to be clear. I have driven north about an hour to get away from city lights and sat there waiting for hours for something to appear. I felt like Linus waiting the "Great Pumpkin" -- and nothing ever happened.

I was beginning to wonder if the northern lights really existed, or if they just lived in the imaginations of some people.

Northern Lights - Ironwood, MI
Photo: Scott Winters/Townsquare Media

I Finally Saw the Northern Lights on Vacation

While on vacation in the Upper Peninsula just after Labor Day, I finally got a chance to see these illusive lights. I saw the forecast was good and the skies were clear. I grabbed a folding lawn chair and headed off to a park alongside the shore of Lake Superior in Ironwood, MI -- and gazed into the northern skies.

Within about 30 minutes you could see some weird formations in the sky that were just barely visible to the human eye -- but you could tell something was going on. The lights are usually more visible through the lens of a camera. Even smartphone cameras can do a pretty good of catching the northern lights and their colors. (That's a picture from my iPhone above.)

I aimed my smartphone skyward and held it very still while snapping a few pictures. To my surprise I had indeed caught an image of the northern lights! Finally after years of trying I can now say I have seen the northern lights.

They didn't last long that evening, only for about 15 minutes, but I was glad I was in the right place at the right time to finally see them.

Northern Lights
Photo: Maya Kairunas/Michigan Aurora Chasers via Facebook

Chasing the Northern Lights

If you are interested in following others who are searching for the northern lights, there is a great group on Facebook called Michigan Aurora Chasers. Not only are their some fantastic photos (like the one above taken at Torch Lake), but they also offer up tips on how to get pictures of the northern lights and alert you as to when the lights might be making an appearance around Michigan.

If you feel like a road trip this weekend, the forecast a chance to see the northern lights looks good for Saturday, September 17th. The further north you go, the better your chances. Just hope for clear skies and good luck. The northern lights are truly amazing!

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