Catching a Green Wave

You can take in a colorful display of the Northern Lights in Northern Idaho

The Northern Lights on full display in northern Russia.

Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Northern Lights on full display in northern Russia.

Olivia Easterday, Science Writer

Every so often, waves wash across the sky in a rush of fizzles and excitement, shadowing the Earth in rays of the rainbow. These strobes of color are called the Northern Lights, which are a series of neon lace that float in the sky, making faint static and moaning noises.

Many think that these lights are a rare phenomenon, but in certain locations they are actually very common on clear nights, and sometimes occur during the day. The Northern Lights are created from the collision of particles on the sun’s surface and nitrogen and gas of our atmosphere, in which forms colorful atoms. The color of the lights vary on the altitude of where they are present, from blues to greens to reds. Generally, the lights can be spotted in Alaska, Iceland, Canada, and other cold climates in the north, but there have been numerous sightings in Idaho.

Northern Idaho is filled with places to see the Aurora Borealis, such as Priest Lake, Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, as well as on Chatcolet Bridge at Heyburn State Park, Hill’s Resort, and many others, due to their lack of light pollution. The best time to see the Northern Lights is when there’s a new moon, or in other words, no moonlight and no clouds to block your view of the rainbow of atoms. From September to March, the Northern Lights appear about two hours after sunset, gradually becoming brighter, clearer, and faster, waving and dipping and rustling in the night.

“They are beautiful,” said Heather Faust, a former resident of Alaska. “They’re green and blue bands that seem to dance across the sky.”

Unfortunately, we can’t see the Northern Lights in all of their splendor with our bare eyes because their light is too faint for the color-cones in our eyes to detect. To the naked eye, they can appear silver, gray or even white at times. But thankfully, aiming a camera with a DSLR (digital single lens reflector) sensor in the direction of the lights will allow you to see the true colors and make the Aurora Borealis truly come to life.