The northern lights, or aurora borealis, are a spectacular natural phenomenon. They can paint the night sky with a lightshow that leave spectators in awe. Seeing the northern lights is a main attraction for many visitors in Iceland, but it‘s not enough to show up in Iceland, you have to be there at the right time.
Fortunately, the northern lights season is quite long, lasting through all the winter months and into the beginnings of spring. The best time to see the northern lights in Iceland is from September to April. Although the lights are present during the summer months, there is too much daylight to see them. When the days get shorter, the lights become more prominent and vivid. They are most prominent in the evenings between 21:00-02:00 (9pm-2am).
What are the northern lights?
The northern lights are formed when charged particles that are ejected from the sun hit earth’s atmosphere. When these particles collide with the atmosphere, they hit the gas atoms that are present there, causing them to energize and resulting in a spectacular multi-coloured light show, which just happens to be a beautiful sight to see when it lights up the dark night sky in Iceland.
The northern lights often look similar to a sunset in the sky at night, seemingly coming from the horizon, but occasionally they appear in arcs or spirals, following the earth's magnetic field and forming unusual shapes. The most common colour for the northern lights is a light green colour, but they also often have a pinkish hue. If the eruptions from the sun are strong, the lights can also appear violet and white. Red northern lights are rarer than the green, but they can sometimes be observed at lower latitudes, and there are even accounts of the ancient Greeks witnessing them.
The colour variations of the lights are caused by different gas particles. The most common, green coloured lights, are caused by oxygen molecules which are located at about 60 miles (96km) above the surface of the earth. The rarer, red-coloured auroras are also caused by oxygen molecules, but are located much higher up in the atmosphere, at approximately 200 miles (320km). Nitrogen molecules can produce blue or even purple-red lights. It is more difficult to see the red coloured auroras with the naked eye, and they are better seen through photographs taken on long exposure. The auroras can also appear white when the colours mix together or if they aren’t very bright.
Check out our Northern Lights tour selection here and experience this magnificent show for yourself!