Most travelers look forward to seeing the wondrous Northern Lights in Iceland. Science calls them the Aurora Borealis when the sky glows with greens, blues, and sometimes reds, which look glorious against our wide-open skies and rugged landscapes. Perfect Instagram magic! But this isn’t magic. It is the universe at work, and we get to enjoy the brilliance here in Iceland and around the world.
Your Friend in Reykjavik wants you to know a little about what makes these fantastic light shows and what are the best conditions to witness one (or hopefully more!).
What in the world are the Northern Lights?
So, let’s get the science stuff out of the way. The show begins a few days earlier when the sun emits a cloud of gas particles, a solar flare. Kind of like a burp. These particles take about two or three days to get to Earth and hit the magnetic field that protects our planet from solar winds. Normally, we don’t see the magnetic field in action against solar winds, but these flares are more intense. These particles are pulled to the magnetic poles and collide with the gases in our atmosphere. Et voila — lights! Those appearing by the South Pole are called Aurora Australis. And by the North Pole, Aurora Borealis, or the Northern Lights that we enjoy in Iceland!
Are Northern Lights usually shades of green?
A few factors contribute to the colors and patterns we see. Oxygen helps create greens and reds. Nitrogen, blues, and purples. How high up these collisions happen also impact colors. Close at about 60 miles are blues and purples. Next up to 150 miles are greens. Then reds at heights higher than that. And because our magnetic field is not just a circle around the planet, but more like a multi-layered bullet, the lights refract in different patterns depending on how they hit it. We’ve seen flowing curtains as well as pulsing orbs and a constant, colorful glow!
Can the Northern Lights be seen only at night?
Technically, the Northern Lights are happening all the time, but the sun’s rays during daylight make it difficult to see. So, that’s why we need a night sky to witness this wonder. And, believe it or not, sometimes you can see these lights closer to the equator. In 1989, a monster solar storm caused the auroras to extend all the way to Mexico. But of course, the ideal place to see the Northern Lights is closer to the North Pole. Like when you visit Iceland!
When is the best time to see the Northern Lights in Iceland?
As we said, the Northern Lights are best seen at night. So, visiting Iceland during the more wintry months, from September to March, when we get up to 20 hours of night, would be an ideal time. But there are other things to consider. We also need clear skies to fully enjoy the light show, and unfortunately, our weather can be cloudy and snowy during the winter. And actually, the autumn equinox is an ideal time to see the equinox, which is why visiting Iceland in September is terrific too!
Your Friend in Reykjavik wants to share the Northern Lights with you!
Your Friend in Reykjavik is here to help you enjoy the Northern Lights and all the other amazing things you can experience in Iceland. And while we can’t guarantee you’ll see the Northern Lights every night of your visit here, we can guarantee we’ll do our best to make sure your stay in Iceland is memorable and full of fabulous pics! To find out more about the best time to catch the Northern Lights, or to learn about our Reykjavik walking tours, contact us today!