The Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights have given rise to endless stories. In addition to taking in all its majestic wonder, the human mind has found ways to dream up fantasies regarding its existence. While we currently have a scientific explanation for them, there’s something else that happens when looking at this natural phenomenon. It’s inevitable that you step into the philosophical or metaphysical world upon viewing this magic light show. If like us, you are captivated by them, then read on to learn more about the Northern Lights in Iceland.

The Northern Lights dancing over Jokusarlon glacier lagoon

Although in this blog we will focus on Iceland’s Northern Lights, the truth is that it’s not exclusive to this country. It’s also possible to see them in countries such as Norway, Finland and others in the same latitudes and with similar weather conditions. The well-known lights of the north are so common in areas of Scandinavia that they are part of the most traditional myths and legends of Nordic culture.

For the Vikings, the Northern Lights were a reason for celebration for the Nordic conquerors, a manifestation of the Nordic gods. In the ancient legends, it is said that Odin, the principal god of the Nordic pantheon, chose a few soldiers after they were involved in a battle on earth. These lucky ones would join Odin’s troops in Valhalla. Those responsible for guiding the road were the Valkyrie, warriors who traveled on horseback. The Aurora Borealis is supposedly the reflection left by the Valkyries when guiding the soldiers from the earth to Valhalla.

In other versions, the Northern Lights were the breath of those soldiers when they left the earth after dying in combat. Another theory is that it was the bridge for those same warriors to cross to the place of eternal rest in Valhalla. In the Sami culture of the Lappish areas, you are not supposed to talk to them or attract their attention. They can take your soul and drag it to heaven and we wouldn’t want that. Fascinating, right? Now that we’ve had our mythology lesson, let’s go to the more scientific part:

What causes the Northern Lights?

Let’s embrace our inner Einstein and dig into the scientific explanation for this seemingly magical apparition.

It all starts with solar flares. As we all know, the sun emits small particles that solar wind directs toward earth. These tiny expulsions are charged with energy and end up floating towards earth. Our planet is protected by a magnetic field and an atmosphere, so when everything collides, there is an impressive reaction between atoms and particles. This, in turn, creates photons, which are small particles of light. And that’s basically how the Aurora Borealis works.

The Northern Lights in Iceland with pink, green, purple, and blue

Why do the Northern Lights have different colors?

Continuing with our scientific-educational theme, let’s talk about why the Northern Lights are not always the same color.

As we mentioned before, planet Earth has an atmosphere. The atmosphere has more than one chemical element present. So far so good? Alright, then I think we’re ready for our next lesson. Well, when the particles come into contact with oxygen, the resulting light is red and green. When it comes into contact with nitrogen, the color produced is pink and purple. So the color depends on the type of element the particles interact with. Interesting right?

When can you see the Northern Lights in Iceland?

To be able to see the Northern Lights you need a series of requirements. First of all, darkness with cold, clear skies. Next, being in the Northern Hemisphere at 60-75 degrees north latitude. Thumbs up because you’ve already crossed the first hurdle of coming to Iceland! So you’ve met the criteria mentioned above (most of the year anyway).

The best season for the Auroras in Iceland is from mid-September to mid-April. These are the months when you are more likely to find the conditions mentioned earlier. You’ll usually see them between 6 pm and 4 am. There is typically a lot of activity between 10 pm and 11 pm.

One of Iceand's famous waterfalls with the Northern lights in the background

Like any phenomenon of nature, it’s unplanned and simply happens. That’s why you’ve got to arm yourself with patience. You might be lucky and have a night with a lot of activity or you may not get to see them that day. We recommend that you always have the official webpage of the Icelandic weather at hand. It has a section dedicated exclusively to the probability of the Northern Lights occurring. You can consult the map to see the area that has the clearest skies.

It’s also essential that you stay away from big cities. In Iceland, you can often the see the Aurora Borealis from Reykjavik itself. But you can increase your chances of seeing them at their best by going to sites without light pollution. The closer you can get to total darkness, the better.

Many people asked if you can see the Aurora Borealis in the summer. Because of what we’ve mentioned above, unfortunately, the answer is no. The Northern Lights need long, dark nights. The Icelandic summer is too bright with the Midnight Sun lighting up the sky for almost 24 hours every day. The brightness in Iceland makes it impossible to see the bewitching lights dancing in the heavens.

The Northern Lights in Iceland: Mother Nature’s Most Colorful Show

If you are lucky enough to see them, share your experience with us. Leave us a comment in the box that you will find below this article. We’d love to know all about your exploits with the Northern Lights!

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