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Everything you need to know about the Northern Lights in Iceland!

Aug 30, 2022


There’s no doubt about it, when on the hunt for the northern lights, Iceland is a top pick! In 2017, 2018 and 2019, over 2 million people were visiting Iceland every year, many of whom were hoping to catch the northern lights. With northern lights tours aplenty, and millions of fantastic pictures across the web and social media teasing the possibility of seeing this natural phenomenon, it’s easy to see why this fantastic country appeals.

 

What are the Northern Lights?

Otherwise known as Aurora Borealis, they occur around the North Pole. They appear high in the sky as dancing lights of assorted colours, including green, blue, and, if you see them in all their glory, red, purple, pink and orange.

 

The Northern lights are created by highly energized particles that are released from the Sun, known as solar wind.

Where is the best place to see the Northern Lights?

Like we said, Iceland is one of the top picks for people wanting to see the natural phenomenon that is the Northern Lights, or the Aurora Borealis. Why? Well, let’s get technical for a moment.

 

Gusts of charged particles or electrons from the sun are sent hurling across space in what is known as a solar wind. Some of these charged particles are propelled towards Earth and whilst much of the solar wind is deflected back into space by the Earth’s magnetic field, some particles can enter the Earth’s atmosphere at the poles, where the magnetic field is weaker – hence why Iceland is one of the best places on Earth to see them. The charged particles collide with oxygen or nitrogen particles in the upper atmosphere and transfer energy, which some of this energy is released as light.

 

Still with us?

So, depending on where in the atmosphere the electrons interact with the oxygen or nitrogen, different colours of light will be produced. For example, oxygen at 60 miles and above produces a green colour (the most commonly seen), but oxygen above 200 miles produces a red colour. Nitrogen at 60 miles produces a blue colour and above 200 miles a violet colour. All these colours can mix to form pinks, yellows, and whites.

Am I guaranteed to see the Northern Lights?

Well, no, unfortunately not! If we could guarantee that you would experience the northern lights on your trip to Iceland, we would be on to something special, but there are things you can do to maximise your chances, that’s for sure.

 

When is my best chance of seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland?

Travel during ‘northern lights season’ from September to mid-April when the nights are dark, and whilst there, take a daily look at the aurora forecast which you can find on the Icelandic Met Office. The strength of the solar activity is given on a scale of 0 to 9. The higher the number on the scale, the more activity and the better chance of seeing the Northern Lights. The forecast also predicts how much cloud cover there is and where you can find clear skies.

These may sound simple, but these tips are worth knowing…

  • Let’s start with the obvious…look north!
  • Head outside on dark and clear nights. Things like a full moon and cloud cover will make the light show harder to see.
  • Get as far away from city lights and built-up areas as you can. Light pollution is not conducive to seeing the Northern Lights at their best.

We could go on forever, but even if conditions are perfect, sadly, there are no guarantees. The Northern Lights can even be present but too faint to be seen by the naked eye! The truth is that the Aurora Borealis is elusive and unpredictable, luck can play a major part, but then that’s what makes them so extraordinary, isn’t it?

Does Iceland sound like the trip for your students?

Whether you’ve got a group of budding geologists, a class of natural-born Einstein or are just itching to scratch off ‘seeing the Aurora Borealis’ from your bucket list… Iceland is sure to have something for your students.

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