Northern lights and Fairbanks nights

Also: Road Scholar's new giveaway contest

After some time off, solar maximum has returned to the skies. It's a regular period of greatest solar activity during the sun's 11-year solar cycle.

On Dec. 15, reported Sunspot 3514 flared with a strong M7-class event following close on the heels of Dec. 14th's X2.8-class boomer. The X-flare on Dec. 14 was the strongest flare so far of Solar Cycle 25 and the most powerful eruption the sun has produced since the great storms of September 2017.

The smallest flares are classified as B-class, followed by C, M and X, which is the largest.

The University of Fairbanks also has a site to track the Northern Lights in Alaska at

Fairbanks ranks high in the sky

The AARP reported on its Dec. 4 online post that "Liz MacDonald, a space scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, says 2024 will be a prime viewing year to see the natural phenomenon. The northern lights, also known as aurora borealis, occur when solar winds with electrically charged particles enter the earth's magnetic field. The particles collide with atmospheric gases to create blue, green, red and violet curtains of light in the sky.

'"The sun is entering its most active time, called solar maximum, which means the northern lights will be more strong and more frequent than usual,"' MacDonald says. '"This will be the first solar maximum where people's cellphones can capture the lights easily, which means great opportunities to share these photos ... and help others get accurate, real-time alerts of visibility.'"

AARP touts Fairbanks as one of the premier sites in the U.S. to see the lights, as Fairbanks is located under what is called the Auroral Oval.

'"The best place in the U.S. to plan a trip to see the northern lights is always Alaska-because they are reliably spectacular that far north-especially Fairbanks,"' MacDonald says. 

'"The months of March and September also tend to be favorable for the lights because of the way the tilt of the Earth lines up with the Earth's protective magnetic field," MacDonald says.

There's even an "Aurora Season" in Fairbanks, from Aug. 21 to April 21, with a range of special tours and events designed especially for visitors chasing the lights. Pick up a Fairbanks aurora map and guide at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center to plan your adventures. Plenty of operators offer Northern Lights tours via snowcat, evening ice fishing adventures or even flights above the Arctic Circle. There are special heated viewing lodges that provide snacks and photography tips too. 

AARP suggests trying Chena Hot Springs Resort, where you can scan the sky while soaking in the mineral hot springs pool, or consider the Aurora Seekers package at Pike's Waterfront Lodge, which includes access to their Aurora Conservatory.

If you live in Alaska and have never seen the lights, well, what are you waiting for?

Fairbanks offers free visitors guide

The official 2024 Fairbanks visitors guide is available for free from Explore Fairbanks. Completely redesigned for this year, the 72-page, full-color booklet provides information for planning a trip to Fairbanks all through the year.

All three seasons are celebrated in the guide-Midnight Sun, Aurora and Winter-that pave the way for your year-round visit. The publication illustrates features and attractions specific to life in the region as well as ways to journey to Denali National Park and Preserve, the Arctic and Interior Alaska. Additionally, it focuses on Fairbanks' delightful downtown, the contemporary arts and food scene, and local outdoor hotspots.

The guide highlights activities throughout the year in the frontier community that include fishing, wildlife viewing, birdwatching, hiking, visiting museums, and activities on the Chena River. During the winter months, there's dog mushing, mingling with reindeer, ice sculpting, snowmobiling, and skiing. The guide also features exhibitions, attractions and performances focused on Alaska Native peoples, spirited pioneers and nature-inspired artists.

And there's the blockbuster events like the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics, Golden Days, Midnight Sun Festival, and the World Ice Art Championships. The guide also lists seasonal and year-round accommodations, services, restaurants, shopping and attractions. 

For a free copy of the 2024 Fairbanks Visitors Guide and the companion piece, the 2023-24 Fairbanks Winter Guide, contact Explore Fairbanks at 1-800-327-5774 or 907-456-5774. The guide can also be ordered or viewed at .

Road Scholar getaway giveaway to seven continents

Road Scholar, the nonprofit world leader in educational travel for older adults, is having an early kick-off of their 50th anniversary celebration with a contest called the "Great Global Giveaway."

Seven lucky winners will win one of seven educational adventures to seven continents, complete with airfare for two people. These seven trips, like all the programs Road Scholar offers, will have an emphasis on learning about the destination the winners are visiting through educational content and immersive experiences.

The winners will be drawn from a list of all of Road Scholar's subscribers, including those already on their mailing list and anyone who signs up in 2024. To enter, starting Jan. 1, 2024, and continuing throughout the year, anyone who's not already on the Road Scholar mailing list can sign up at Subscribers can also earn extra chances to win by referring friends who aren't already on Road Scholar's mailing list online at Each friend referral provides another chance to win.

The Great Global Giveaway culminates in January 2025 when the winners will find a golden ticket on page 50 of Road Scholar's January catalog. Winners will also be notified directly by phone or email so they're sure not to miss the good news.

The seven trips include: Africa and African Safari, A Close-up on Wildlife; Antarctica "Land Ho!"-Icebergs and Penguins in Otherworldly Antarctica; Asia and The People of the Mekong-Vietnam, Cambodia and Angkor Wat; Australia and Discover a Land Down Under-Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney; Europe French Art Voyage-Paris, the Rhône and the French Riviera; North America-The Best of the Grand Tetons to Banff and Iconic National Parks; South America and South American Odyssey-Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Machu Picchu and More.

"With more people than ever wanting to find meaningful experiences by studying abroad, we couldn't think of a better way to stir excitement than to give away trips to all seven continents," said Maeve Hartney, Chief Program Officer of Road Scholar.

In addition to the Great Global Giveaway, Road Scholar wants to hear the stories of its participants over the last half-century.

"For nearly 50 years, six million Road Scholar participants have experienced the joys of learning and traveling with us," said Hartney. "We're gathering 50 of the most heart-warming, poignant, charming and funny stories from the Road Scholar community."

Past Road Scholar travelers are encouraged to share a story about their travels with Road Scholar have impacted them at 

For more information about Road Scholar's Great Global Giveaway, visit .

Road Scholar, a non-profit, combines travel and education to provide experiential learning opportunities featuring an extraordinary range of topics, formats and locations, in more than 100 countries and throughout the United States. Alongside renowned experts, participants experience in-depth and behind-the-scenes learning opportunities by land and by sea on educational travel adventures designed for boomers and beyond.

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