Remote Canada town a hub for Northern Lights seekers

Thu Feb 28, 2008 7:16pm EST
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By Cameron French

YELLOWKNIFE, Northwest Territories (Reuters) - In the subarctic woods of Canada's Northwest Territories, a quiet crowd searches the moonlit sky, a wave of concern creeping into hushed voices. Time is running out.

Then a funnel of greenish light appears in the east, hanging still at first, then rippling like steam in a glass tube. On the opposite horizon, a waving curtain of color spreads above the trees, drawing shouts of glee from the crowd.

"It's so romantic!" a woman shrieks, clasping her partner's hand. Others are busy adjusting their digital cameras.

The Northern Lights have made their appearance, the highlight of the day for a group that has crossed an ocean and endured freezing temperatures to seek them out.

More formally known as aurora borealis, the lights have made the northern mining center of Yellowknife -- population roughly 20,000 -- a travel hub for mostly Japanese tourists eager to take advantage of the town's nearly ideal viewing conditions.

While Alaska and Scandinavia boast their own borealis viewing industries, local operators claim the conditions outside Yellowknife -- flat and for much of the year very, very cold -- are perfect.

As well, the city's proximity to the "aurora oval," a magnetic band that circles the magnetic pole in the upper Northern Hemisphere, means the lights can occur at nearly any point in the sky.

And so a cottage industry has risen to handle the estimated 6,000 tourists who annually pump millions of dollars into the local economy during the prime winter viewing months.   Continued...

<p>The Northern Lights appear in the sky over the woods in Canada's Northwest Territories, February 14, 2008. REUTERS/Cameron French</p>