These spectacular blue and green lights, dancing in the skies above the country of ice and fire, are at the top of many people’s bucket lists. However, many people are unaware of what they are.
The aurora borealis, or northern lights, are the visual effect of solar particles entering the Earth’s magnetic field and ionizing high in the atmosphere. Ionization gives them their colors, which are mainly green but can also be purple, red, pink, orange, and blue.
However, solar activity is unpredictable and irregular. As a result, even on a dark, clear night, Iceland may not see the northern lights. On the other hand, northern lights can appear in the atmosphere on a midsummer day, but the brightness of the sun prevents you from seeing them.
Auroras can only be seen near the Earth’s magnetic poles. They are often seen above 60 degrees north and below 60 degrees south, with the’southern lights’ known as the aurora australis.
Iceland is located at around 64 degrees north latitude, making it an ideal location for viewing the northern lights.
Before science could explain the origins of the dancing lights in the sky, various people spun many stories about them.
Surprisingly, there is little folklore regarding the aurora in Iceland. According to modern researchers, the Old Norse people may have mistaken the northern lights for the glinting of the Valkyries’ shields and armors. The valkyries were female figures that escorted fallen warriors to Valhalla. However, the northern lights are not mentioned in the old Icelandic sagas, thus these are only theories.
The northern lights are best seen in Iceland between September and April. While they can be seen occasionally near the end of August, the residual sunshine renders them quite dim.
We’ve written an entire post about when to observe the northern lights in Iceland. It covers information about the northern lights season in Iceland, as well as the optimum time of day to see them.
As a general rule, the darker it is, the more vivid the colors of the aurora can be seen. Iceland is very dark in winter, darkening up to 20 hours during and around the winter solstice, which occurs on December 21 every year. You should also check the Icelandic Aurora forecast. They are on a scale of one to nine, and anything above three is worth considering, as two points are usually conspicuous. It also depicts clouds covering the whole country, so you can tell where the sky is clear.