Northern Lights Facts

The Aurora Borealis are a fantastic natural phenomenom to behold and Iceland is one of the best place on Earth to see them. But surrounding the Auroras are many legends and myths. Here are a few Northern Lights Facts. 

Many people travel to Iceland every year to see the Northern Lights. We often hear the same questions regarding this beautiful natural phenomenon. Here are a few Northern Lights facts and our best answers to the most frequent questions.

Northern lights facts and frequently asked questions

What are the Northern Lights?

There are many legends about the lights. In medieval times seers and fortune tellers believed that the lights were harbingers of woe, war and famine. The Menominee Indians of Wisconsin believed the lights indicated where the spirits of great hunters and fishermen, called manabai’wok, could be found. Many different cultures believed that the lights were spirits, either of their people or the animals that they hunted.

After diving into the subject it's clear that  "Solar winds hitting the earths magnetic shield creating color" is just not going to cut it! The Northern Lights are a series of discharged particles emanating from the sun. These tiny charged beauties gush out of enormous dark spots on the sun's surface creating clouds which travel over 150 million kilometers before reaching Earth. 

To enter the Earth's ionosphere the particles need to become tangled in the magnetic field and be dragged down to the poles. When the lights are dragged into the poles they collide with gasses. This collision is what creates the northern lights. The colour of the lights depends on what types of gasses the discharged particles collide with. For instance a collisions with oxygen typically produce green and yellow lights while contact with nitrogen results in reds, violets, and blues. The shape of the lights depends on the magnitude of the solar flares. During periods of minimal solar flares, shapes tend to be less dramatic. But in cycles of strong flares, lights dance, wind, loop and weave through the night sky. 

Where can I see the Northern Lights?

As the lights stem from particles entering at the Earth's poles, the best places on Earth to see the northern lights will be in and around the Arctic Circle. Which in turn means that Iceland is one of the greatest places on Earth to see the Northern Lights. If you have the chance of staying away from heavily populated areas, that would be a good way to limit the light pollution. However, you can expect to see the lights from the city when they are at their strongest but you will not be getting the same spectrum of colour as you would be getting away from the city lights.

When can I see the Northern Lights?

Now that you know that Iceland is one of the best places to see the lights, you have to make sure to visit in the right time of year. The fact is you can NOT visit Iceland in the summertime and expect to witness the northern lights at the same time as the midnight sun. Sorry, but that is a fact.

In order to see the Northern Lights you need darkness so you should consider traveling from around the middle of September until early April. You'll also be needing clear skies to see the lights so it's best to head out when the weather is still. This will always remain a bit of a gamble as we often offer a variety of weather in a single evening. Just remember, when hunting for the Northern Lights patience truly is a virtue!

What is the best way to see the Northern Lights?

Now that you know the "what, where and when" of the Northern Lights we only have the "how" to cover. Whether you'll be staying in Iceland for few days or if you´re only looking for an evening tour, you'll find that it's possible to hunt for the Northern Lights in all sorts of manners.

When it comes to the aurora hunting, it's best to start by looking at the time you have in Iceland. If you are planning a short winter holiday and are able to arrive on any weekday (well, and don't have any qualms about driving yourself!!) then a northern lights self-drive holiday is perfect for you. But if you would rather like to travel with more people and reap the benefits of a specialized tour guide then you should think about booking a northern lights escorted tour.