The Northern Lights are one of the most magnificent sites to be seen in Iceland. Every year during the winter months the sky is filled with a green and red glow that transforms the horizon.
This phenomenon happens in both the northern and southern polar areas, but because the northern pole is more inhabitable you have a better chance of seeing the lights here. In the north the technical name is aurora borealis, which is named for the Roman goddess of dawn, Aurora, and the Greek word for north wind, Boreas.
What the scientists say about the Northern Lights
The Northern Lights occur because of charged particles in the air that collide in the earth’s atmosphere. Normally this happens about 100 km high up in the air where something called solar wind (energy from the sun traveling at high speeds) travels through the atmosphere toward the earth’s magnetic fields. The magnetic field centers on the North Pole and is a 2500 km circle.
Because this magnetic field is so large, the Northern Lights can be seen in Iceland clearly.
The most common colors of the Northern Lights are green and red. This is because of the percentage of oxygen molecules in the air. Reds, blues, and violets may also appear depending on the amount of nitrogen in the atmosphere.
Optimal viewing of the Northern Lights in Iceland
The Northern Lights can sometimes be seen for only a couple of minutes while other times the show might last for a few hours. There’s really no way of knowing how many times or for how long the Northern Lights will be visible, so to increase your chances of seeing the Northern Lights follow these tips.
Viewings are best between September and October.
The Northern Lights are not as impressive (or there are none at all) from May through August.
Pick a clear night. Any cloud cover or weather will hide the changing colors.
The colder the better. Crisp nights prove to be more spectacular.
Dress warm. Although Iceland is not as cold as you think it is, it is still the winter. Dress warm and bring blankets.
The most dramatic light displays are seen around midnight.
Travel to the countryside where the city lights and pollution won’t disrupt the view.
Be patient. It could take awhile.
Go with a tour group. The local experts know exactly where to go and what conditions are perfect for viewing the Northern Lights in Iceland.