This will be the finest year in centuries in which to view the celestial pyrotechnics of the aurora borealis, or northern lights, according to scientists at the University of Alaska Geophysical Institute.

The aurora appears when solar storms release highly charged particles that collide with the Earth's atmosphere.The ensuing multicolored walls of dancing light are visible throughout the far northern and southern reaches, but Alaskans say Fairbanks offers the most intense show.

An unusually warm vantage point is the sulfurous waters of Manley Hot Springs, 155 miles west of Fairbanks, or Chena Hot Springs, 60 miles to the east.

Closer to the city, an abandoned mining camp that has been converted into a resort, the Old F.E. Gold Camp, arranges packages centered around aurora watching (as well as dog sledding and snowmobiling during daylight hours).

A glass-ceilinged "aurorium" for northern lights viewing, which is now being built, should be ready before the lights season ends in late March or early April. Until then, viewing is from a nearby ski lodge with a northern exposure.

A tour, including transportation to and from Fairbanks, 30 miles away, and viewing until 5 a.m. is $45. Rooms at the lodge are $27.50.

Reservations: Pam McLaughlin, Old F.E. Gold Camp, P.O. Box 72537, Fairbanks, AK 99707; (907) 389-2414. General information: Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau, 550 First Avenue, Fairbanks, AK 99701; (800) 327-5774.