The Northern Lights Michigan is famous for showcasing (aka Aurora Borealis) are a naturally occurring phenomenon caused by collisions between gaseous particles in the Earth’s atmosphere and charged particles released from the sun.
What are the Northern Lights?
The Northern Lights, commonly known as aurora borealis (and aurora australis in the Southern Hemisphere), are a natural display of light in the night sky of the northern hemisphere. Auroral displays come in a variety of colors, the most frequent of which are light green and pink. Red, yellow, green, blue, and violet hues have also been recorded.
A solar flare (energetic particles emitted by the sun) travels across space on the solar wind, ultimately breaching the Earth’s magnetic field. Electrons in the Earth’s magnetic field sideswipe oxygen atoms or nitrogen molecules. The northern lights are caused by colliding particles (typically electrons) with atoms; after impact, electrons might revert to their initial, lower energy state, releasing photons or light particles known as aurorae.
The differences in color are caused by the different types of gas particles that are doing the colliding. We are blessed with some of the best places to see the Northern Lights in Michigan!
An Interesting Historical Perspective of the Northern Lights
Historically, Aurora Borealis has had many interpretations as people groups tried to explain this natural phenomenon.
- The Maori, of New Zealand, believed them to be the fires and torches of people living far north.
- Inuit tribes of Alaska looked to the lights to see representations of their ancestors and the animals that they hunted.
- A little closer to home, the Menominee of Wisconsin thought the lights were the lanterns of a group of giants that lived to the north.
Regardless of how they work or the beliefs behind them, the Aurora Borealis is beautiful and the Mitten is blessed to have such a good seat in this natural light show.
Tips for Seeing Northern Lights in Upper Michigan
Seeing the northern lights is difficult to predict as they are a naturally occurring phenomenon and a clear night sky is required. Follow these tips to increase your chances of viewing an aurora borealis shower, regardless of where you are in the northern hemisphere.
- Find a dark sky with a wide horizon to the north.
- Check NOAA’s three-day forecast and 30-minute forecast for possible sightings.
- Dress warmly and be patient.
Best Places to See the Northern Lights in Michigan
Northern Michigan is full of quiet, remote, and dark places that are perfect for watching the Northern Lights in Michigan. So go grab the family and a blanket and find a spot that is free from any type of light and enjoy the Northern Lights in Michigan.
Headlands International Dark Sky Park in Mackinaw City
The sixth International Dark Sky Park in the U.S., exploring Headlands International Dark Sky Park is one of the best things to do in Mackinaw City, especially if you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights in Michigan’s lower peninsula!
Over 600 acres along more than two miles of Lake Michigan shoreline in Emmet County provides a perfect stargazing paradise.
Lake Superior’s Shoreline in the Upper Peninsula
Northern Michigan is at an excellent latitude position since the auroral oval dips further south on nights of higher auroral activity. Due to the relatively dark night sky, the Upper Peninsula is gifted with hundreds of miles of shoreline along the south side of Lake Superior, which affords some of the greatest places to see the Northern Lights in Michigan.
With its proximity to the North Pole and its lack of light pollution, the Upper Peninsula is a prime place for watching the Northern Lights in Michigan. Lake Superior’s high shorelines give sky-gazers a full, unobstructed view of the night’s lights, making it one of the best places to see the Northern Lights in Michigan.
Looking north over Lake Superior, one can see all the way to the horizon and enjoy a 180-degree panorama of the night sky. At our latitude, getting to a position without being obstructed by a treeline or hills is critical, as an auroral show will often sit extremely low on the horizon.
Some of our favorite places to see the Northern Lights in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula include:
- Whitefish Point
- Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
- Big Bay
- Eagle River
- Eagle Harbor
- Copper Harbor
Port Crescent State Park in Port Austin
The dark sky preserve in Port Crescent State Park gives stargazers in East Michigan the perfect setting for catching a shooting star or a glimpse of the Northern Lights in Michigan!
Competent kayakers might even enjoy a nighttime venture to Turnip Rock for nature’s best light show.
Best Time to See the Northern Lights in Michigan
The transitions from winter to spring and fall to winter seem to produce the best conditions in the atmosphere for seeing the Northern Lights in Michigan. Key months for Northern Lights activity in Michigan are April, October, and November.
The actual timing of the Northern Lights can be difficult to predict, and most predictions are made within 24-48 hours of the actual display. Pick a clear, crisp night for the best chance at catching the Northern Lights on display in Michigan.
The best app to predict the lights is Space Weather Live, which can predict them up to an hour before they become visible.
Watch the Northern Lights in Michigan
If you’ve never seen the northern lights Michigan is known for and want to optimize your chances, learn about and pay attention to sunspot activity, as that is what triggers them.
Unable to catch the Northern Lights in Michigan live? Check out this time-lapse video of the Northern Lights from 2011.
More Photos of the Northern Lights in Michigan
In March 2021, the Aurora Borealis was on full display across much of Michigan, and the best Michigan landscape photographers did not let us down. We’ve gathered some of the best photos of the Northern Lights in Michigan to share with you…
Where is the Best Place to See the Northern Lights in Michigan?
Finding a dark place with a long-range view of the northern skies is preferred for seeing the Northern Lights Michigan is famous for. Examples include dark sky parks and various locations along Lake Superior’s southern shorelines.
When is the Best Time to See the Northern Lights in Michigan?
The Northern Lights in Michigan can often be seen between the months of August and April, with the peak months being March, April, October, and November. Solar activity tends to be highest during the transition from fall to winter and winter to spring, adding to the chances of catching Aurora Borealis in Michigan!
Do the Northern Lights happen every night?
While the Northern Lights do happen every night, they don’t generally make their way far enough south to be seen regularly in Michigan. Watch the skies on clear, cool nights for your best chance to catch a glimpse of this natural phenomenon in Michigan!
What month is best to see the Northern Lights in Michigan?
The northern lights are best seen during the winter months on dark, clear nights around a New Moon. In general, the months of September through April are the best for seeing the Northern Lights in Michigan. To get the most out of this natural light display, begin looking skyward several hours after dusk.
How long do the Michigan Northern Lights last?
The Northern Lights Michigan boasts are most prevalent between 5:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. They aren’t generally visible for long, and they may just show for a few minutes before drifting away. A nice light show will likely last for no more than 15-30 minutes at a time, but if you’re very lucky, it may just linger for many hours.
Where have you seen the Northern Lights in Michigan?