Nature's light show 'once-in-a-lifetime' trip

Updated: 2013-09-24 02:18

By SHI JING (China Daily)

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For amateur stargazer Li Ren, seeing the aurora borealis — the natural light show that appears over the Arctic — will be a childhood dream come true.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing," the 29-year-old said. "It simply cannot be missed."

The State-owned enterprise employee, who as a youngster had hoped to be an astronomer, will finally get his chance to see the spectacle on China's first aurora observation trip.

Li will be among 22 people heading to Yellow Knife, a town in northwestern Canada, on Sept 29 to witness the northern lights, which are caused when energy particles collide with atoms at high altitudes.

The trip, which cost each person 30,000 yuan ($4,900), has been organized by the Shanghai Astronomical Observatory and will last until Oct 7.

Zhu Dayi, international cooperation director at the observatory, said it usually takes a cycle of 11 years for solar activity of the sun to peak and provide the best time to observe the aurora. This year falls in that cycle.

"The last time the sun reached its peak activity, digital camera technology was not as developed," he said. "I believe participants will take fantastic pictures this time."

The journey is far more than about taking pictures for most people, however.

"The younger generation has changed their lifestyle. There are more things worth pursuing, other than houses and cars," Li said.

For many years, Japanese, especially senior citizens, have been regular observers of the aurora — named after the Roman goddess of dawn — in Yellow Knife. However, insiders say they have seen a growing group interested in aurora observation.

"Tours like the aurora trip cater to a very small group of people, but we're seeing a growing interest in this kind of travel," said Qiang Yi, assistant manager of North American travel at Shanghai Jin Jiang Tours, another organizer of the aurora observation trip.

"Travelers want their trip customized and in-depth. You can see that there are fewer travelers opting for trips covering more than 10 European countries in a dozen days. They'd rather stay for a longer time in one place."

Apart from aurora observation, trips including observing polar bears in the North Pole and a longer trip to the South Pole are gaining growing popularity, Qiang added.

Zhou Qinglin, 53, manager of an astronomical instrument factory, started stargazing in 1997. This time, he is taking his wife and 5-year-old son on the trip.

"It's definitely a great thing to witness," he said. "It's also a great opportunity to broaden my son's horizons. Although he is still a child, I've already taken him to Yunnan province when he was 2 and to Australia last year to observe all kinds of astronomical phenomena."

Fei Xiangyi, 41, owns a company producing printer supplies, and it is the first time that he will go abroad. Going with him is his 10-year-old son.

Both have been reading a lot on astronomy ahead of the trip.

It is also an opportunity for Fei to check out the environment and culture in Canada as he wishes to send his son to Canada for middle school study.

"I hope my son can see more of the world, especially the natural landscape," he said. "This trip is more than simple travel. We are going for a specific purpose. I think my son will learn more from this kind of trip."

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