Secrets of Voyageurs - The Night Sky

It's a good time of year for reflection, so our staff decided to share some of the things that we love about Voyageurs National Park with you. Please comment and share your favorite stories from visiting Voyageurs with us! Voyageurs National Park is well known for its pristine lakes and big fish! But after the sun has set for the evening, and you've eaten a few s'mores, it is definitely worth leaving the warmth of your tent to enjoy the beauty of the night sky. Grab a chair and a blanket, and spend some time enjoying the majesty of nature.


Unlike at home, where the night sky might be harder to see because of city lights, it's quite dark at the park at night, so the stars appear brilliantly lit. And as you marvel at them, just imagine how the light that you are seeing from distant stars can be thousands, or even millions, of years old.

Experts recommend that you use a red headlamp or flashlight, since it won't spoil your night vision. It's helpful to bring a star chart with you, and you may want to use binoculars, but with the naked eye, you can see the Milky Way stretching out above you. (Here's how to find it, if you're not sure.) Sometimes, you may see planets, or the craters of the moon. (There are also many great apps for learning about the night sky on your phone.)

As you relax and enjoy the stars, you might glimpse a shooting star, (a meteor) as it streaks across the sky. These are actually small amounts of matter from outer space. As they enter the atmosphere, friction heats them up, and they appear as a streak of light.

Meteors can frequently be seen in the park. In fact, tonight, October 22, is actually a great night for seeing them, as the Orionid Meteor Shower will be happening in the early morning hours.

Shawn Thompson

It's amazing what night sky photography has captured in the park, such as in the image above by Shawn Thompson. Here, you can see the stars as they appear to rotate in the sky over time (that's from the rotation of the earth). And if you look closely, you can just make out the colorful streaks of the Northern Lights (the aurora borealis) on the horizon.

Sometimes, at Voyageurs National Park, you can even see the Northern Lights in all their spectacular glory. We held a photo contest over the summer, and we were stunned by some of the images visitors had taken of these shimmering lights!

Bruce Bergeron

These lights, which appear to dance in the night sky, are caused by interactions between the Earth's magnetic field and disturbances on the surface of the sun. It's not possible to predict exactly when and where you might see the aurora borealis, but it is more likely when you are further north - and of course, the night sky needs to be dark and clear. Scientists also use the Kp index, which ranges from 0-9, to represent the level of solar activity that is happening at a given time. The higher the Kp index is, and the further north you are at the time, the more likely it is that you might see the aurora borealis in the night sky. The Geophysical Institute in Alaska provides an aurora forecast using this information.

Shawn Thompson

There's another sky phenomenon to keep an eye out for tomorrow, but this one will happen during the day. You can see the new moon partially eclipsing the sun during the afternoon hours on October 23, 2014. Remember, you must use proper eye protection when watching a partial eclipse to prevent blindness or eye injury. Here's how to safely watch a partial solar eclipse, and the time when the eclipse will happen where you live.

Lastly, sunsets, and the night sky, are even better when enjoyed with family and friends. If you're visiting the park with kids, be sure to check out the Junior Ranger Night Sky Activity Guide (PDF).

Have fun out there!

Jessica Fritz

P.S. If you love Voyageurs National Park as much as we do, please Save the Date for Give to the Max Day - which is November 13 this year.

Or, if you'd like to learn more about the park, and you live in the Twin Cities, come to our free event on November 6 - Antlers, Fangs & Fur. You'll enjoy Dr. Steve Windels' stories of studying moose, wolves, and beaver in Voyageurs National Park. The event begins at 5:30 at REI in Bloomington. We'll be serving hot cider and appetizers from Whole Foods Market until the presentation begins at 6 p.m.