The Best Time to See Iceland's Northern Lights

Magazine The Best Time to See Iceland's Northern Lights

Iceland's Northern Lights are undoubtedly one of the country's most popular natural attractions.  And for good reasons!  They are a fairly rare and beautiful atmospheric phenomena that only happen, typically, at very high latitudes on Earth.  Iceland being just a couple ticks below the Arctic Circle is just such a place.

But latitude alone is not everything.  To see the best Northern Lights shows, you also have to be away from light pollution.  Iceland, being a sparsely populated nation, has large expanses of land with minimal or even no light pollution.  In fact, just a relatively short drive from the capital city of Reykjavik, one can be in prime Northern lights viewing locations.

The best time to see the Northern Lights in Iceland are typically between September and April.  Of course this coincides with dark nights, as opposed to the long daylight that accompanies Iceland's summer.   While there are no guarantees that you will see the Northern lights and one could be treated to an amazing light show through the entire season, December, January & February tend to be the peak times to see them.  This is mostly due to the dark nights during these months. 

It should be noted that there are many natural factors that might get in the way of seeing the Northern lights, so no tour operator can guarantee that you'll see them.   First, there needs to be mostly cloud-free skies, this is the most common thing that gets in the way.  Other factors are the phases of the moon; it's best to pick a time when the moon is in its crescent and new moon phases as these create darker nights.

What causes the Northern Lights? The Northern Lights are actually the result of collisions between gaseous particles in the Earth's atmosphere with charged particles released from the sun's atmosphere. You see color variations depending on what types of gas particles are colliding.  The most common color is yellowish-green which is caused by collisions with oxygen molecules about 60 miles above the earth.  Rarer colors include reds, blues and purple.  These color variations are due to collisions with oxygen molecules at much higher elevations, or collisions with Nitrogen molecules, respectively.

Did you know that 'Northern lights' are known as Aurora borealis in the north and Aurora australis in the south, or Southern Lights?

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