Guide to Northern Lights in Iceland

What are the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis?

The bright dancing lights of the aurora are actually collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere. The lights are seen above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres. They are known as ‘Aurora borealis’ in the north and ‘Aurora australis’ in the south. Auroral displays appear in many colours although pale green and pink are the most common. Shades of red, yellow, green, blue, and violet have been reported. The lights appear in many forms from patches or scattered clouds of light to streamers, arcs, rippling curtains or shooting rays that light up the sky with an eerie glow.

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When to see the Northern Lights in Iceland?

The official Aurora season in Iceland is from October until March but like with so many other things that have to do with Icelandic nature it’s not something you can say with any certainty. For example, the first Northern Lights of the season in Reykjavík this year were seen around the middle of August. The ideal conditions to see them are when it’s cold and dark outside and the Aurora activity is high. The cold is not a factor but the sky has to be clear which it usually is on very cold nights.

world_4http://www.gi.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast/NorthPolar

 

Where to see the Northern Lights and how

Now that you know a little bit about the Aurora Borealis you probably also want to know how to see them. There are three things to consider before you do anything else.

Aurora Activity – The more aurora activity the more likely it is that you will see them. Aurora forecast on this website that tells you how high or low the Aurora activity is for any given day. The higher the number on the scale, the better it is that the Northern Lights will be visible.

Darkness – It has to be dark outside so it is easy to spot an Aurora

Clear skies – Unfortunately, Reykjavík is usually cloudy. Having s clear skies give you a good chance to see one.

If you find yourself in Reykjavík, keep your eyes at the skies but make sure you don’t get hit by a car while walking. If the Aurora is strong enough you might be able to see it right away. Avoid the light pollution. Suggested place to spot an Aurora:  Grótta lighthouse, Miklatún or Hljómskálagarður parks, Öskjuhlíð (that hill where The Pearl is) or anywhere else where it looks a darker than the rest of the city.

If you want to drive, many go to Þingvellir National Park but any pitch black place will do. Make sure you are dressed warmly.

Most of the tour operators in Reykjavík offer Northern Lights tours. Try Iceland Excursions or Reykjavík Excursions.  Most tours come with a free re-book  if you don’t see anything.

Do I need to be high up, like on a mountain?

The height of the mountain or your elevation is not relevant unless it helps you get to more darkness.

 

What is the best time of night to see the Northern Lights?

Nobody can tell what is the best time to see. Some say they come out at 9 pm, sometimes 5 am, and the show last for 5 minutes or sometimes last for hours. I’ve heard it’s better between 10pm and 2am. You basically it’s up to you, how much time you can stay outside to search and watch.

When we went out and we couldn’t see anything at first but white in the sky.

This is what our tour group is complaining.

Why?

But when we took a photo of it, the white lights turned to green in our camera.

As I have read, with longer exposure time, the camera collects photons from a longer period of time in a single frame, so they can look brighter and stronger than our naked eyes could see. (Photons are tiny little particles of light, too small to see individually. All light is made of photons.)

The stronger the solar activity the brighter, greener and colorful it will become.

And even if you only see white lights glowing in the sky, that is still an amazing natural phenomenon.   But hopefully, you’ll see them in all the full colors.

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