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Sometimes the ghoulish lights look as though an alien spaceship might be about to land, while at other times the swirling colours seem more like there’s a slow-paced, astral disco going on.

But whether the northern lights appear as flickering curtains of electric green, swirling mists of pink and purple or bands of brilliant blues streaked recklessly across the sky, you can’t deny there’s something wonderfully surreal about them.

As everyone knows, 2013 is supposed to be a bumper year for aurora borealis sightings, as the lights are in the liveliest phase of their 11-year cycle.

The science behind the auroras is that lights appear when highly charged electrons interact with either oxygen or nitrogen in the earth’s atmosphere, anywhere between 20 and 200 miles above the earth’s surface.

The colour and shape of the lights depends on the altitude, and which elements they come into contact with.

Part of the thrill of catching a glimpse of this natural phenomenon is that it’s so unpredictable.

No matter what corner of the earth you choose to go light-seeking in, there is never any guarantee the lights will appear at all, or what form they’ll take.

The downside of going on a quest in search of the aurora borealis at the moment is, of course, that everyone else is ticking it off their bucket list this year too, so crowds are often dense and costs are usually high.

1. Iceland

You could save a few quid by heading to Iceland to catch them, as the country’s post credit crunch prices will work in your favour, and a handful of budget airlines such as WOW air and easyJet have direct routes from London.

There are a number of places from which to catch a sighting, including Snaefellsnes Peninsula, a narrow and isolated strip of land that stretches out from Iceland’s west coast.

The location makes it a great vantage point from which to see the northern lights and during the day there’s plenty more to feast your eyes on – a  volcano, lava fields, glaciers, waterfalls and a rugged coast dotted with fishing villages.

2. Russia

Just how badly do you want to see the nothern lights this year? Badly enough to brave a bone-rattlingly freezing Siberian winter?

If you can handle the cold, head to Murmansk in the Kola Peninsula, which is a key viewing area. Most tourists stay here but drive out to the Lovozero settlement in the hope of seeing the aurora borealis, as it’s a good distance from any potentially interfering light sources from the city.


Top 5 places to see the Northern Lights: 2013 is prime time to see the aurora borealis spectacle
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