How to View the northern Lights in Summer

Can I see the northern lights during the summer in Churchill?

This is a pretty frequent question asked to us and the answer is — possibly!

Take a read through the blog below to learn about what the northern lights in summer can be like and all about northern lights viewing in Churchill.

It is possible to see the northern lights in Churchill any time of the year. On your summer adventure, you may be able to catch a glimpse of the northern lights, but cloud coverage can be a challenge. Below, we'll take a deep dive into what causes the northern lights, the best times for viewing, and what you might expect during the summer months.


What Causes the Northern Lights

Several factors must come together to allow the northern lights to be visible:
  1. Solar Winds

  2. Clear Skies

  3. Gas Particles in the Atmosphere

In simple terms, the northern lights are caused by solar winds entering the Earth's atmosphere. Solar winds comes from the corona layer of the sun and contain plasma— super charged particles. In periods when the sun is more active higher levels of solar winds can make their way to Earth. When these particles reach Earth, they collide with certain gas particles, creating the spectacular display known as the aurora borealis. This phenomenon occurs high above the cloud level, so if the skies are not clear, the northern lights may be happening, but they won't be visible to us on the ground. Clear skies are the key element for northern lights viewing.

Auroral Oval 

The town of Churchill, Manitoba, lies directly beneath the auroral oval. This oval-shaped zone surrounds Earth's magnetic field, where particles from solar winds are drawn in and interact with the atmosphere. This interaction creates the northern lights. The best northern lights viewing occurs beneath the auroral oval, and Churchill is located right in the middle of this zone, offering the best odds for the most intense northern lights displays. As shown on the map, Churchill is ideally situated for spectacular aurora borealis viewing!


Summer Northern Lights Viewing 

For viewing the northern lights in the summer, a few elements may reduce the chances of a spectacular display:

1) Cloud Coverage

In the summer months, there is a higher likelihood of cloud coverage. This is because the water sources in the Churchill region are not frozen over, leading to more condensation in the air. Clear skies are essential for viewing the northern lights, and summer often has more cloud coverage compared to other seasons. However, summer isn't always cloudy, and there are clear nights where you might catch a spectacular display of dancing auroras.

That said, the odds are not as favourable as in the months of February and March, when Churchill experiences many nights of clear skies due to the frozen water sources. If seeing the northern lights is your top priority, we recommend a winter northern lights adventure.

2) Light Skies

During the summer months, Churchill experiences long hours of daylight, with sunsets around 10:00 pm and sunrises close to 4:00 am. The skies tend to remain somewhat light even during the night, which can make any northern lights displays that do occur a little less vibrant. Notice in the photo below how the sky still looks very light out even though this image is taken late at night. 


While it is possible to see the northern lights in the summer, cloud coverage and light skies reduce the odds of a spectacular display. For the best northern lights viewing experience, consider visiting Churchill during the winter months when conditions are more favourable. However it is always possible to get lucky as the photos in this blog show! 

Alex Cupeiro--0781 (3)

Northern lights image taken along the coast of the Hudson Bay in August. © Alex Cupeiro

How To See Them 

If you are traveling to Churchill this summer, here are some useful tips to help you catch a glimpse of the aurora borealis and stay safe while doing so:

1) Ask Your Guide

Your guide is there to help you have the best adventure possible and may have tips and suggestions based on their experience viewing the aurora in Churchill. Don't hesitate to ask them for advice.

2) Stay Safe

Churchill is known as the Polar Bear Capital of the World for a reason. Even in the summer months, polar bears can be around the town. If you plan to seek out the northern lights, it's best to do so in a group and not stray far. It is not recommended to walk around Churchill at night. We strongly recommend asking your guide about viewing options and polar bear safety. Your guide may also be able to offer a call-list suggestion or group viewing opportunities.

3) Check the Live Camera

Explore.Org has a camera on the roof of the Churchill Northern Studies Centre. This camera is a great way to keep an eye on the sky without leaving the comfort of your hotel room. View camera here.

4) Use Your Camera To Check 

Cameras can see the northern lights better than the human eye due to their higher sensitivity to low light, the ability to use long exposure times, and post-processing capabilities. While the human eye processes light in real-time and struggles with low-light conditions, cameras can accumulate light over several seconds or minutes, enhancing brightness and colour. Additionally, high dynamic range (HDR) techniques in cameras capture more detail and vibrancy, resulting in more vivid images of the auroras. You can use your camera to detect the northern lights before they might become super visible to the human eye. 

5) Learn How To Take Photos

Check out our two blogs below to learn how you can capture stunning images of the aurora borealis:

By following these tips, you can enhance your chances of experiencing the magical northern lights while ensuring your safety.

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Northern lights image taken along the coast of the Hudson Bay in August. ©CJ McCarthy


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