What are the Northern Lights?
Iceland is a beautiful country with many beautiful and magical sites to see and adore. This stark island-nation straddles the North Atlantic and Arctic ocean. It is one of the five Nordic Countries that forms the roof of Europe. Although Iceland shares continental plates with both North America and Europe, it is still classified as European for its culture, politics and historical background. Iceland attracts thousands of tourists every year and no wonder. The beautiful island in the north has much to offer such as clean air and water, amazing scenery, mountains, waterfalls, hot springs, geothermal pools and the northern lights.
Iceland is sparsely populated by a hardy breed of 320,000 people. It is home to many wild, natural and unpolluted places to marvel at. Chief of these are the northern lights. The capital, Reykjavik, may be filled with extravagant city lights, but it is unable to hide the beautiful Northern Lights. Just a few kilometers outside the city and you have a spectacular view of this magical spectacle. But what are the northern lights?
What are the Northern Lights?
“Aurora borealis” is another name for the Northern Lights. Aurora is Latin for the Roman goddess of sunrise, Dawn. In the high northern latitudes, the Aurora is a stunning display of curtains of colored lights in the sky, chiefly visible at the beginning and end of winter.
This marvelous display is caused by the collision of charged energetic particles with atoms in the thermosphere, the boundary between the earth’s atmosphere and outer space. The charged particles come from the magnetosphere and also from the solar wind which are both directed towards, among others, the Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere.
The product of the collision of these charged particles with an oxygen molecule leads to green or brownish-red lights. The produced light depends on the amount of energy absorbed by the collision of particles. The more intense the bombardment, the brighter the display. Nitrogen emissions cause a display of blue or red lights to seemingly hover above the Earth’s atmosphere. The Northern Lights turn blue if charged air particles regain an electron immediately after being ionized. If it returns to its surface state immediately after an excited state, it will release red lights.
When to look for Northern Lights in Iceland
Northern lights in Iceland are visible for nearly 8 months in a year. This gives tourists a long window to marvel at the marvelous sight without having to travel to Alaska or northern Scandinavia. You don´t have to drive far from the capital to see them either. If it is too bothersome to leave the comforts of Reykjavik, you can see these beautiful lights from downtown. From the city center, the aurora may not so bright but still a marvelous natural phenomenon. Each night, there is a northern lights forecast, which you can take note of to maximize your viewing pleasure.
As early as the start of fall, in August, this heavenly spectacle begins to manifest. The moment the northern heavens darken for the long winter twilight, the Aurora Borealis become visible. Of course, it is also important that weather conditions are favorable for sightseeing. Even halfway through spring, as late as the month of April, these marvelous lights can still be seen. The Northern lights can be viewed at any time, between dusk to dawn. All you need is a clear dark sky. And yet, the most beautiful spectacle that you can ever behold is when you see the Northern lights as the sun is rising, or as it sets. It is the most enchanting sight that you shall ever see in your lifetime.
Where to find the Northern lights in Iceland
From Keflavik International Airport you can look out your airplane’s window and see the Northern lights dancing in the sky if it is dark outside. Once you land, you take the road to Reykjavik through an empty, moon-like landscape. This 45-minute drive is a perfect place to spot your first Aurora borealis.
One can visit the Blue Lagoon where you can sit in the steamy pools and watch the Northern lights as long as you want without getting cold. Hiking or camping in the highlands is another picture-perfect place to see the Northern lights. Traveling far from the city allows solitude, peace, and serenity as you gaze upon the Northern lights away from the city noise and lights. The geothermal area of Landmannalaugar is a popular destination to view the lights. However it would be better if the travel is planned in advance, because the area is not open the whole year round, and only 4×4 vehicles can access this area. A unique option for a northern lights hunt is floating, where you float in the Secret lagoon with underwater music Sigurros to relax while you wait for the lights to show up.