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This article was published 7/2/2015 (1813 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Want to see the northern lights from the comfort of a heated pod where the view is always bright and clear?
The latest innovation is a glass structure called an aurora pod, bound for Hudson Bay by rail today.
The pod is to be set up in Churchill and equipped inside with a pellet stove, hot chocolate and 16 seats for one of the nature's most spectacular polar shows.
Colorado company Natural Habitat Adventures commissioned the structure from Winnipeg-based Anything Custom after years of searching for a workable solution to Churchill's bitter winters — the cold averages around -25 C during peak aurora season in February.
"This is something we've been talking about for a couple years now. Our northern-lights tours in Churchill are selling really, really well; people can't get enough of them," said Jacquie Prescott, a spokeswoman for the global tourism operator.
American tourists are willing to plunk down $5,000 for such excursions, pushing the Natural Habitat tour growth up 30 to 40 per cent to Churchill in the last four years.
The obvious next step was to heat it up.
"Nobody wanted to guarantee the product would hold up in that kind of cold," said Steve Seldon, another spokesman in a Friday morning call to Natural Habitat's headquarters.
Except the Winnipeg company.
Anything Custom had a track record with Natural Habitat on its polar bear excursions. General manager Sheldon Walkoski is proud of his team's pod and knows Churchill first-hand.
"I grew up there, and I can guarantee there is nothing like this up there now. It's a one-of-a-kind prototype unit," Walkoski said by phone from his office on Waverley Street. "We designed and built her."
It has a solid base slightly more than a metre tall, with the rest of the unit formed from glass. A custom heating system allows for condensation-free and frost-free viewing, he said. "It won't have the issues of domes that frost up," he said.
The unit — there is just one — is 10 metres long and a little more than three metres wide. It's not mobile, but it is portable and can be towed like a trailer.
The obvious advantage of an aurora pod is comfort and warmth.
"The temperatures up in Churchill at that time of the year, when the best viewing times are, are unforgiving. They're bitter, even."
The dead of winter is when the aurora borealis shines brightest.
The stunning phenomenon is the result of charged particles shot out into space from solar flares. The Earth's magnetic fields net the flares from solar winds and draw them down to the Earth's poles.
Churchill is one of the Earth's best windows for the spectacle.
Bent by the Earth's magnetic field, the supercharged particles undulate, like a rippling shield. That same field safely sweeps away solar winds and radiation, leaving only iridescent colours to flow through the darkness.
Updated on Saturday, February 7, 2015 at 2:19 PM CST: Alters text in 16th paragraph.