We‘re now into the second half of the Northern Lights season but that doesn‘t mean there aren‘t still plenty of opportunities to see the elusive beauty of the Aurora Borealis. If you, like many, are still a bit unsure of how these things actually work, don’t worry. We’ve got all the information you need to be totally prepared for this natural wonder. Now all we need is Mother Nature on our side. Here are a few tips and tricks for the perfect Northern Lights holiday.
But let’s worry about her fickle moods later. First we’ll get you up to speed on the science. These pretty lights in the sky don’t just appear out of nowhere. They occur when electrically charged particles are released from the sun and solar winds push them towards earth. When the particles collide with the magnetosphere (this unfortunately has nothing to do with the X-Men, it’s the region of space surrounding an astronomical object in which charged particles are controlled by that object’s magnetic field. But we all knew that.) they run into oxygen and nitrogen and become visible to the human eye in multi coloured streams of light. The many different colours depend on types of gases and altitude. But enough about wind and gases! Here’s a handy infograph for those who want to know more.
Ok so now we know why, we just need to know where to see the Northern Lights. Luckily Iceland is one of the best places in the world to see them. But where in Iceland? Well, to be honest the Northern Lights can be seen from pretty much anywhere in Iceland if the conditions are right. However, we want the optimal viewing experience and for that we need to get away from city lights and into the countryside. For those travelling around the country this should be easy. There are several great countryside hotels that are conveniently located for an Aurora Borealis show. Most hotels will even get their dedicated staff to wake you up in the night if they make an appearance. For those based in Reykjavik there are several Northern Lights tours available that will take you out of the city for an evening. You can go on a bus for a group experience, in a Super Jeep if you’re up for an adventure and even in a boat! And if you’re travelling with the whole family and want the opportunity to see the lights without having to pack everyone and everything into the car when conditions are favourable, then an escorted tour is your dream come true.
There’s that phrase again, favourable conditions. Not only do these particles in space need to be correctly positioned, down here on Earth, Mother Nature might not always be in the mood to play along. In order for the Northern Lights to be visible there needs to be a clear sky and the closer it is to a new moon the better. It also helps if there isn’t a snowstorm going on (the Northern Lights can only be seen in winter, since it doesn’t get dark in summer in Iceland). So what to do if it’s clear you won’t be able to see the Northern Lights on the night you hoped? Well, if you’re out in the country you’ll get another chance the next night. In the meanwhile you can explore your surroundings and maybe scope out the best spots for the perfect Northern Lights picture once the clouds have cleared. There’s bound to be a waterfall somewhere nearby (there are over 10.000 of them in the country) that’ll make for an worthy pic. If you’re in the city and have booked a tour, there’s no need to panic even though it’s cloudy. All Northern Lights tours offer you the chance to come again the next night if your tour has been cancelled. Just enjoy a stroll through the town and take advantage of the many great restaurants and bars Reykjavik has to offer. You can also visit the Aurora Reykjavík Northern Lights Centre to get the indoors Northern Lights experience. Happy hunting!