What Are The Northern Lights?

Posted by Admin on 10 Jan 2017

What are the northern lights? Simply put, they are a beautiful natural phenomenon and the greatest natural light show on earth. 

two people photographing northern lights

The northern lights go by many names. From aurora borealis (Latin for the dawn of the north) to norðurljós in Icelandic or hálogar (high flames) in Old Norse. No matter what they are called, they are an ethereal wonder that one has to see in order to truly believe. In Iceland, the northern lights can be seen on nights when the sky is clear from late August through to April and they are SPECTACULAR!

Science Behind the Northern Lights

The aurora borealis light show takes place high above the earth where the atmosphere is very thin. The lights themselves are created by electrically charged particles (solar wind) interacting with the particles in the upper atmosphere and they can sometimes even make sounds as they drift across the sky.

The solar wind is made up of highly charged particles – protons and electrons – emitted from the sun. When the wind reaches Earth the particles interact with the Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field. These particles become trapped in the Earth’s magnetic field colliding with molecules in our atmosphere. These collisions make the molecules emit light. These thousands upon thousands of collisions on the molecular level result in a glow that fills the sky creating the northern lights.

What the Northern Lights Look Like

When you see the northern lights, it appears as though streams of light are dancing in the sky as they flow back and forth. The lights are usually green and white but the color combinations can become more impressive depending on the altitude of the lights and the makeup of the particles found there. Check out our answers to frequently asked questions on the northern lights for more information.

two people silhouetted against a sky with green northern lights

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. 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 darkest and most clear. 

adandoned white house under blue northern lights

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. Tour operators such as Gray Line Iceland have years of experience under their belts and know the best spots to view the lights. They monitor the Meteorological Office for forecasts on the spectacle that is the northern lights so you don’t have to, working out when and where guests will get the best chance of seeing them.  But don’t just take it from us, here’s what our guest from Port Moody, Canada had to say:

“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. Discover more reasons to book with a tour operator here.

How Can Gray Line Iceland Help You See the Northern Lights?

Gray Line Iceland has been in the business of chasing the northern lights for a long time. Taking one of our northern lights tours means being 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 a 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 and travel to the top of Mount Hafrafell with our ATV and Northern Lights Tour. Alternatively, you can travel with us out to the Secret Lagoon and Northern Lights Hunt Tour where the northern lights look quite amazing against the rugged lava landscapes.

Use these tips to prepare for the hunt (don’t forget your camera) and we look forward to meeting you soon on one of our northern lights tours in Iceland.

Bless. Bless.

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