Inside Secrets for Viewing the Northern Lights in Michigan

The aurora borealis is a breathtaking sight that many consider themselves lucky to catch. Today, Marquette-based visual artist Shawn Malone shares her secrets for viewing the Northern Lights in Michigan.

The aurora borealis – it amazes, energizes and astounds with no two events ever being the same. As we cruise through the solar maximum in 2013, the peak of an eleven year cycle of the sun and a time of the greatest auroral activity,  there is a heightened opportunity to catch a northern lights show right here in Michigan.

Michigan has a lot of things going for it when it comes to northern lights viewing, the most important being 1). latitude  and 2). relatively low light pollution in many areas.  Northern Michigan sits in a great location latitude-wise, as the auroral oval dips further south on nights of stronger auroral activity.  The Upper Peninsula  is blessed with hundreds of miles of shoreline along the south shore of Lake Superior, which provides some of the best northern lights viewing in the lower 48 due to the very dark night skies.  When looking north over Lake Superior, one can see right down to the horizon and take in a 180 degree unobstructed view of the night sky.  Getting to a location without the obstruction of a treeline or hills is important at our latitude, as many times an auroral display will sit very low on the horizon. Having a dark night sky with little light pollution is necessary when looking for the northern lights, as the light of the aurora is equal to the brightness of starlight.

People often ask me how I’ve been able to see so many northern lights displays over the years and a lot of it has to do with what I mentioned above. I live in Marquette, Michigan which sits centered on the south shore of Lake Superior, and when looking north there’s nothing but lake for hundreds of miles. Marquette and locations nearby have many areas along the lakeshore still publicly accessible, allowing for the opportunity to view the aurora right from the shoreline.

If you’ve never seen the northern lights and want to maximize your opportunity to do so,learn and pay attention to sunspot activity, as that’s what drives the northern lights.

Get away from the light domes of the cities and head north on I-75 and get to a dark sky location in Upper Michigan. If you make it as far as the bridge, check out Headlands International Dark Sky Park, two miles west of  Mackinaw City.  This is a newly designated international dark sky park, one of the few dark sky parks in the country.

Once in the Upper Peninsula, anywhere along the south shore of Lake Superior is optimal: Brimley, Whitefish Point, Pictured Rocks, Autrain, Marquette, Big Bay, Skanee, Eagle River, Eagle Harbor, Copper Harbor are just a few of the places that come to mind. Let your eyes adjust to the night sky, set up a lawn chair and a blanket, and enjoy one of nature’s most spectacular wondrous light shows, the northern lights! It is an experience you won’t soon forget.

RADIANCE from LakeSuperiorPhoto on Vimeo.

Shawn Malone is a visual artist based in Marquette, Michigan.  Her photo/video portfolio of the aurora from Michigan has been internationally awarded and recognized, with the video, “North Country Dreamland” being a Smithsonian 2013 viewer’s choice winner. Her work has also appeared on network TV numerous times as well as web and print media across the globe. Malone has an art gallery in downtown Marquette, LakeSuperiorPhoto

  • http://hospitalitylifestyles.com/what-are-hospitality-industry-professionals-reading/ Deborah Spagnuolo

    I have only seen the Northern Lights a couple times from Mid Michigan. I definitely would like to see them from the upper peninsula. I’m sure they are stronger there. Beautiful images!

  • John Tomich

    I’ve been following Shawn Malone’s postings and admiring her photographs for some time. Spectacular. One of my resolutions is to see and photograph the Northern Lights. Thank you for the viewing tips, Shawn!

  • Wayne

    When is the best month to see them this year?

  • Kim

    it’s amazing that these were photographed in Michigan?

  • Kim

    how often can you see this? Wonderful!

  • http://catch22fishingcharter.com Kim Nguyen

    Wow – I love these lights – beautiful …

  • John Hukka

    amazing photos and video

  • Mary Charles

    I saw them once in 2001, it is something I will never forget

  • Hans Petrich

    you captures some amazing auroras for a latitude as low as Michigan! thank you, amazing work

  • totalcoolbrah

    whoa.. awesome

  • mikey erbe

    I so want to see the lights, so cool you can see them in michigan :)

  • joseph

    Awesome…amazing photos and vid-can’t believe this happens in Michigan!

  • john zupancic

    saw them on beaver island twice once in summer once at deer season also one time in charlevoix