The Northern Lights – Icelands Aurora Borealis

Iceland is one of the best places in the world to see the spectacular natural phenomenon of the Northern Lights.


What are the northern lights?

The northern lights also known as Aurora Borealis (named after Aurora the Roman goddess of dawn and Boreas the greek name for the north wind) are a natural light display in the earths atmosphere which occur normally at night in the polar regions.

The Northern Lights in Iceland
The Nothern Lights (Aurora Borealis) over the mountains of Borgafjordur, Iceland (1hr from Reykjavik) © Kevin Martin

What causes the northern lights?

The northern lights or aurora borealis occur mainly as a result of solar wind particles and ions which flow outwards from the sun towards the earth. On reaching the earths upper atmosphere (100km above the earth) they collide with atmospheric particles and ions and in this process create a fantastic array of light and colours which dance in the night sky in the form of a glow, smoke or curtain effect.

What colours are the northern lights?

The colours of the northern lights are a variation of Greens, Reds, Purples, Pinks, Yellows and Blues. Green is the most frequently occuring colour.

When is the best time of year to see the northern lights in Iceland?

The best time of year to see the Northern Lights in Iceland is between the months of September and March.

During September – March what type of local weather conditions does there need to be to be able to see the Northern lights?

To be in with a really strong chance to witness the northern lights a cloudless, clear sky is the main requirement with the outside temperature being cold but dry. A strong solar wind is also needed as the solar particles colliding in the atmosphere are the main cause of the northern lights as mentioned above. Also an important factor is to be away from artifical light. This can be achieved even by travelling 20mins outside of Reykjavik, the capital city of Iceland, If all of these factors are in place then the chances are extremely likely that you will be able to see the spectaular northern lights.

Where is the best place in Iceland to see the northern lights?

One of best places in Iceland to see the Northern lights is in fact just around the Reykjavik area. In fact on a really clear night the northern lights can be seen from the middle of downtown Reykjavik. For more intensive displays however, travelling outside of the city and suburban areas is recommended.

Can I photograph the northern lights? If so do i need any special or expensive equipment?

Yes . Photographing the northern lights is a great way to record and preserve your experience of this amazing phenomenon. Expensive and special camera equipment are not necessarily required. A good point and shoot camera should have enough manual settings to at least obtain a clear and well composed shot of the aurora borealis. A tri-pod is strongly recommended also.

Links for Northern Lights & Aurora Borealis

Probably one of the best online forecaters of Northern lights and Aurora Borealis activity
The Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska Fairbanks – Northern Lights / Aurora Borealis Forecaster

Wikipedia – Aurora Entry