Hello everyone, this past week has been so special because we were blessed with amazing weather thus amazing northern lights!
For those who don’t know it yet, I’ve been staying and working in Iceland since last June. I work in a tourist shop that is also a travel agency and I see people every day asking me about northern lights.
Everyone has been crazy about them! Post of pics are showing everywhere on my facebook feed so I thought I would write a post about it and try to answer the questions people ask me the most!
So wait a minute…what are northern lights exactly?
The northern lights are caused by solar winds disturbed by the magnetosphere. The magnetosphere is basically the layer formed from both the North and the South Pole to protect Earth from those solar winds. That’s why you can see the northern lights next to the Poles; the magnetosphere is less protective in those regions.
These solar winds are composed of atoms and ionized particles. Those are heated by the friction of entering the Atmosphere creating beautiful colors ;).
Why have some northern lights different colors?
A photo of Northern Lights by Nelly Volkovich.
The variation of colors depends on the atomic oxygen’s level and our eye sensitivity.
The most common northern lights are green. At highest altitudes, they appear redder (more atomic oxygen, less sensitivity of eyes). At very low altitude they tend to be blue (very low atomic oxygen). Sometimes they are purple. Purple
Purple northern lights are rarer (they are in fact hard to spot by humans and may require optical windows) but I have seen some this week !! 😀
Some can be yellow or orange or pink, it’s basically a mix of red, green or blue!
In what part of the world can you spot Northern Lights?
Alaska, Norway, Sweden, Greenland, Finland and Iceland. Basically any place near the North Pole!
At what time of the year are the northern lights visible?
In Iceland, you can see them from the end of august/beginning of September to April.
This year the northern lights were visible on august 30th in Reykjavik!
How to spot northern lights?
You need obscurity, clear skies, and no light pollution to spot northern lights. The Icelandic weather website is great just click here!
It indicates the level of clarity (if there will be clouds or not).
The part where the map is white is where you can possibly spot them:
It also indicates the level of intensity of the northern lights:(on the right of the image)
It needs to be at least 3 ! The level was very high last Wednesday as you can see!
So what you need is:
no light pollution
But what you have to remember is that you can’t really predict in advance if there will be any northern lights and where they are going to appear.
You have to check closely at the forecast like a few hours before evening. It’s part of the magical event of spotting them! It’s not really predictable!
You also have to be lucky and patient! Because sometimes you have to wait for hours!
The first time I saw some, we had to wait until 1 am. We were about to give up (and we were freezing, it was last February) and all of a sudden we spotted a little white light, like somebody was painting in the sky! And it became more and more intense and green!
People started to cheer, to shout, it was an incredible feeling to witness something so rare and so beautiful!
Where is the best location to see northern lights?
Although some tours are nice, you don’t have to book a tour to see them! Just watch the forecast above and see where it’s best.
Of course, within Reykjavik, the lights can be a bit of an inconvenience.
Actually this week, the city council of Reykjavik decided to turn off the city lights from 10 pm to 11 pm to make spotting northern lights easier! Told you it was something really special this week!
The first time I spotted northern lights, it was at the Gardur lighthouse next to Keflavik.
Seeing them next to a lighthouse is really nice: you have the water reflection, not much light and a nice scenery for your pics!
By the Reykjavik Bay, it is also nice:
How to take the northern lights in pictures?
Taking pics of them is hard in my opinion, especially if you don’t have a tripod (like me!!).
to set your camera on Manual
Set the exposure to about 20 seconds
Aperture from F2.8 to F4
Iso to 800
Since you need to stay very still a tripod would be nice and a remote control for your camera so you don’t have to push the button of your camera and move it ;). That’s also why going on a northern lights cruise is not great if you want to take pics: the boat shakes!
Also don’t forget to shoot the northern lights within an actual scenery (a building, a mountain…something in the background) to give some perspective or else you’ll end up with a stray of green light but it won’t translate much, see:
I hope you have answered all your interrogations! If you have more don’t hesitate to contact me or leave a comment!
I hope you’ll be lucky enough to spot the northern lights at least once in your life, it’s truly something special!
Did you know? The northern lights’ other name is Aurora Borealis which comes from the Roman goddess of dawn, Aurora, and the Greek name for the north wind, Boreas.
for more info check out the Aurora Reykjavik