UN­DER A SCI-FI SKY

Midwest Living - - Back Road - WRITER Ti­mothy Meinch

It looks like space al­gae,

drift­ing in a ce­les­tial tide. But tech­ni­cally, that’s star plasma: bitty par­ti­cles emit­ted from the sun and col­lid­ing with Earth’s at­mos­phere (seen fram­ing Michi­gan’s Mack­inac Bridge, above). How­ever you spin it, the au­rora bo­re­alis looks like a sci-fi dream. One that’s worth los­ing sleep over. And that’s typ­i­cally what it takes to catch a glimpse.

Bev and Al Kiecker of Min­neapo­lis started chasing the north­ern lights post-re­tire­ment, fired by a love of pho­tog­ra­phy. Al’s de­gree in physics helps. But the pur­suit leans on wan­der­lust, per­sis­tence and po­etry just as much as sci­ence.

“It’s a beau­ti­ful phe­nom­e­non. Rib­bons of lights danc­ing around,” Al says. “But you can’t just say, ‘I want to go see the lights tonight.’”

While alien green, yel­low and vi­o­let skate across the North­ern Hemi­sphere year-round, sight­ings are most com­mon De­cem­ber through April, due to win­ter’s long nights. The lights are most bril­liant and fre­quent far north but can creep down to Ohio, Iowa and Ne­braska. The trick is align­ing strong so­lar winds with good view­ing con­di­tions—clear night sky, no full moon, min­i­mal city lights.

The Kieck­ers sub­scribe to so­lar no­ti­fi­ca­tions and have go-to spots: Wis­con­sin’s Crex Mead­ows State Wildlife Area; Lake Su­pe­rior’s North Shore; Ely, Min­nesota. Out of 10 trips, they’ve caught the lights a few times. Their strat­egy is sim­ple. Learn to en­joy the hunt. Keep a bag packed. Then wait for a push alert. Tonight could be the night you jump out of bed and start the chase.

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