What Are The Northern Lights?

Posted by Kublai on 10 Jan 2017

So, what are the northern lights? Well, simply put, they are a beautiful natural phenomenon and the greatest natural light show on earth. 

You’ll hear the northern lights referred to as Aurora Borealis, or even Norðurljós in Icelandic. The northern lights in Iceland can regularly be seen from September through to March on cold and clear nights and they are SPECTACULAR!

Now for the science bit…

The Aurora Borealis light show takes place high above the earth where the atmosphere is very thin. And the ‘lights’ are created by electrically charged particles that make the thin air shine.

The solar wind’s stream of highly charged particles – protons and electrons – when escaping the sun, interact with the earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field. These particles become trapped in the earth’s magnetic field and then bounce back and forth. As they do so, some escape into the earth’s atmosphere and when they do so, they collide with molecules in our atmosphere. These collisions make the molecules shine. Each of these collisions results in a glow and this is what makes the auroras or lights.

What the Northern Lights look like.

When you see the northern lights, it looks like the streams of light are dancing in the sky as they flow back and forth. The lights are usually green and white - but the colour combinations become more impressive as the pressure in the atmosphere drops. The higher the altitude, then the lower the pressure, and the colours you will see when this happens are reds and pinks. The lower the altitude and the higher the pressure means that you’ll see green lights mainly. 

Why visit Iceland for the Northern Lights. 

Iceland is one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights. It lies under the Aurora Oval – an oval shaped region around the North Pole where the Northern Lights are seen most frequently.  You do need to know the best locations and conditions to see them. Although it’s usually best to see them away from light pollution, they can sometimes be seen in Reykjavik in the middle of winter – when the conditions are coldest, and therefore clear and dark. 

Why see the Northern Lights with a tour operator.

One of the best ways to see the Northern lights in Iceland is with a tour operator. Chances are they will have been chasing the lights for years, so they will have located the best spots to see them down to a fine art! And they’ll be monitoring the Meteorological Office for forecasts on the spectacle that is the Northern Lights, working out when and where guests will get the best chance of seeing them.  Like our guest from Port Moody, Canada found out: “Took the Northern Lights Mystery tour on Sept 25 2016. Swan was our guide and he was unbelievable. What a great storyteller. And he knew just the right times to stop, where other buses kept going. They cancelled the tour for the first two nights and we were lucky enough to finally go on the third night. Although we were initially disappointed they had cancelled, it quickly made sense when we were on the tour that they knew exactly what they were doing and they didn't want to take a chance in disappointing guests on the tour.”

Finding the lights is not a straightforward process. That’s why it’s a good idea to book with a tour operator.

How Gray Line Iceland can help you see the Northern Lights.

My colleagues and I at Gray Line Iceland have been chasing the Northern Lights for a long time. If you travel on our tours in Iceland, then you’ll be in the company of experts.

When you visit Iceland, you can join us on our Northern Lights mystery tour, or our Northern Lights Deluxe Tour complete with warm blanket, hot drinks and light meal. Or view the Northern Lights from the water on our Northern Lights cruise from Reykjavik. You can even hop on a quad bike travel to the top of Mount Hafrafell with our ATV and Northern Lights tour. Or alternatively, travel with us out to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula for our two-day tour where the Northern Lights look quite amazing against the rugged lava landscapes.

I look forward to hopefully meeting you soon on one of our Northern Lights tours in Iceland.

Bless. Bless.

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