The Northern Lights exist in the outmost layer of the atmosphere. They are created by electrically charged particles that make the thin air shine, not unlike a fluorescent light. They can be seen in auroral belts that forms 20-25 degrees around the geomagnetic poles, both the north and the south. The Northern Lights, also called Aurora Borealis are one of the most spectacular shows on this earth and can frequently be seen in Iceland from September through April on clear and crisp nights. The Northern Lights occur high above the surface of the earth where the atmosphere has become extremely thin, in an altitude of 100-250km.
What causes this spectacular phenomenon, so characteristic of our northern lights here in Iceland? Well, it’s electricity that does it – and of course it all goes back to the sun. Tiny particles, protons and electrons caused by electronic storms on the sun (solar wind) are trapped in the earth’s magnetic field and the begin to spiral back and forth along the magnetic lines of force – circle around the magnetic pole, so to speak. While rushing around endlessly in their magnetic trap, some particles escape into the earth’s atmosphere. They begin to hit molecules in the atmosphere and these impacts cause the molecules to glow, thus creating the auroras.
White and green are usually the dominant colores but sometimes there are considerable colour variations, as the pressure and composition of the atmosphere varies at different altitudes. At extremely high altitudes where the pressure is low, there tends to be a reddish glow produced by oxygen molecules when they are struck by the tiny particles of the solar wind. At lower altitudes, where there is higher pressure, their impact-irritated oxygen molecules may glow with a greenish tinge and sometimes there is a reddish lower border created by particles colliding with nitrogen molecules in the immediate vicinity.
The phenomenon is easily explained by modern science. What our ancestors may have thought when they gazed into the brightly-lit winter sky is quite another matter. But by all means don’t let any scientific explanation spoil your appreciation of the beauty of the Northern Lights. They are a truly impressive spectacle, whatever their cause.
BEST TIMES TO SEE AURORA BOREALIS
The Northern Lights have been seen in the Mosfellsbær area as early as August. Tour companies start 1 September to 15 April. Having dark winter nights is conducive to good viewing but not the only criteria. A clear sky with no cloud cover is also required for a good siting. And lately good solar wind activity. We advice guests to keep a look out on 2 separate websites:
The combination of both will assist to determine when clear skies are forecast and when Aurora has a higher rating. The higher the number in the rating indicates the more colour spectrum you are likely to see. What most people aren´t aware of is that the Auroras start off white, so you may mistake them for cloud with an untrained eye.
BEST TIMES FOR VIEWING IS FROM 10PM TO 2AM. BUT CAN VARY ON A GOOD NIGHT.
PHOTOS OF THE AURORA BOREALIS ABOVE HOTEL LAXNES
Thank you to our guests who have shared with us their pictures of the northern lights whilst staying at Hotel Laxnes. 🙂