We are currently in one of my favorite times of year. Northern Lights season is here and many people are hoping to catch a glimpse of this nighttime splendor in the sky. From September to March, the Aurora Borealis is visible in Iceland. The undulating waves shimmer in hues of turquoise, emerald, and magenta as they move across the sky. So what causes them and where can you see them? You might just be greeted by the light show in the sky as you exit Keflavik Airport. Let’s learn about the Northern Lights and how you can increase your chances of seeing them.
What Causes the Northern Lights?
The scientific explanation for the Northern Lights is actually quite simple. Solar flares on the sun frequently produce highly charged particles that make their way to our planet. Once these fast-moving electrons, protons, and ions reach us, they collide with atoms in earth’s atmosphere and produce photons (small particles of light). The colors that you see in the Aurora Borealis depend upon the type of chemical interaction taking place. When the particles interact with oxygen in the atmosphere, the photons emitted are green and sometimes red. When the gas is nitrogen, the result is a bluish-colored light.
Where Can I See the Aurora Borealis?
The Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights, are visible from the topmost part of the Northern Hemisphere. There are actually several countries you can see them from including Finland, Russia, Norway, Sweden, Greenland, Iceland, Canada, and the United States (Alaska). Of course, I may be completely biased, but I think Iceland is the perfect destination for anyone looking to see this natural wonder. The island’s far northern latitude, just south of the Arctic Circle, means that the lights are visible during most of the year.
What are the Ideal Viewing Conditions?
One of the reasons that Iceland is perfect for spotting the Northern Lights is that it’s a place without a lot of light pollution. Most of the country is uninhabited, so it’s not difficult to drive outside of cities like Reykjavik or Akureyri and see them. Additionally, the cold contributes to clear skies, which are necessary for viewing the Aurora Borealis. And because the country is so far north, the sun sets relatively early in the winter. All of these factors combine to make it quite likely that you’ll see the Northern Lights when you visit.
Northern Lights Excursion in Iceland or Do It Yourself?
When going on a Northern Lights hunt, you’ll want to decide whether or not to go it alone or book a tour. The benefits of a DIY Northern Lights excursion is that you have the freedom to go where you want, whenever you want. You can explore different places, some off the beaten path, and not be tied down to the schedule of an organized tour or have to share your experience with other travelers. Your new best friend with be the Aurora Forecast from the Icelandic Meteorological Office. This report lets you check aurora activity and cloud cover.
If you book a tour, you’ll be guided by professionals who know the best spots and conditions for spotting the Northern Lights. While going on an excursion is not a guarantee that you’ll see the Aurora Borealis, you’ll likely have a better chance of spotting it that if you did it on your own.
One piece of advice that I want to offer is to not make the Northern Lights the focus of your entire trip. If aurora activity is low or if there is excessive cloud cover, you may not see it at all. This is especially true if you’re on a short trip. Think of it as the icing on the cake. A nice little bonus that you got to enjoy while visiting Iceland.
Iceland’s Magical Northern Lights
I really hope you get to experience the Northern Lights in Iceland. It’s a beautiful display that not many places on earth can say they have. Be sure you come when the country has adequate hours of darkness (September to March). And of course, bring your sense of adventure. Iceland is known for its natural beauty and the Aurora Borealis is just another unique part of that.