Why is September a good time for Northern Lights?

The air is cooler, the nights are longer and in the northern hemisphere autumn begins mid September. As we say goodbye to the warm nights of summer, a welcoming change is that the longer, darker nights allow for better night sky views as winter approaches.

Northern lights reflect Saskatchewan canada
September 2019

One of the main questions I get asked as an Aurora Photographer is when is the best time to see the aurora? Most people want to know how to plan to see the majestic northern lights, but the problem is they are highly unpredictable. However, one of the best times to increase your chances is to make time in September to check out the night sky.

Aurora spikes in Saskatchewan Canada
September 2020

Why is September one of the best times to see the northern lights?

Longer Nights – as the seasons change the nights get longer, meaning more hours of true darkness to enjoy a good view of the stars and hopefully the northern lights! When the aurora is active, it can be visible about 1.5-2 hours after sunset/ before sunrise on a clear night. Planning during the new moon or when the moon is less than 50% illuminated can improve the view of a darker night.

Northern lights in boreal forest Saskatchewan Canada
September 2019

Fall Equinox – there are changes to the earth’s magnetic field during the fall and spring equinox that can allow for better northern lights shows. This is because the northern lights are caused by the way our earth’s atmosphere reacts and captures energy released by the sun. During the equinox, changes to the magnetic sphere around earth can sometimes lead to an increase in the amount of energy captured by our atmosphere. As the energy passes earth, the magnetic field pulls it towards the poles, which is what causes northern/southern lights.

Aurora band in sky over farmyard
September 2018
Northern lights over highway in Saskatchewan
September 2019

Weather Patterns – every area has their own weather patterns, and this may not be true of most locations. But in some areas September brings clearer weather and less cloudy nights to interfere with the view. As I write this on a cloudy September night, I’m reminded to reiterate that any and all predictions to do with aurora are general trends, and not a guarantee. The weather won’t always be clear, and September won’t always bring the best shows, but in general it’s a good time to try and hope for a lucky night! September is also one of the warmer months that get the privilege of longer nights as winter approaches, so it can be a lot more comfortable staying out all night for a show when the temperatures stay above 0.

Highway Aurora Borealis Saskatchewan
September 2020
Aurora Borealis Meadow Lake Provincial park Saskatchewan
September 2021

Sun’s Activity – the sun can release earth-directed energy at anytime, but it does go through an 11 year cycle of activity. The last solar minimum occurred in 2019, meaning for a few years it is predicted the suns activity will increase until approximately 2025 when activity begins to decrease into another minimum in approximately 2030. Of course the suns activity can only be roughly predicted and the actual strength of each solar cycle is relatively unknown.

Fall aurora in Saskatchewan
September 2018
Porcupine hills Saskatchewan Aurora Borealis
September 2017

September is a great time to see the Northern Lights! The far north has darkness again, the hours of darkness have increased in central areas and this all increases your chances of seeing the northern lights because the amount of time it is dark allows for higher chances! Yes, you must be located under the aurora oval, the actual oval will only reach further south based on solar and atmospheric activity. The strength of each show is dependent on the sun, the energy released and how earth-directed it is, and of course if it hits during darkness. There are many factors that can impact a show, and it’s important to remember that the only reliable predictions occur about 30min ahead of time.

For more specific information on how to see the northern light and follow the data, I wrote about it here. When the conditions align, September can be a perfect time to see an amazing northern lights show!

Why is September goof for northern lights

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