What are the Northern Lights?

Officially known as Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights are one of nature’s most spectacular visual phenomena: shafts or curtains of colored light visible on occasion in the night sky, offering a dramatic, magical display that fascinates all who see it. The Northern Lights can be observed in the sky of high latitude regions such as Norway, Iceland, Finland or Canada.

They can be seen from many places on Earth but are visible nearly every night nearer to the North Pole.

Northern Lights above Skogafoss waterfall, Iceland

 

But Just What Causes Auroras?

Auroras occur when charged particles from the sun's solar wind interact with Earth's magnetic field (at altitudes above 80 km).

The colors most often associated with the aurora borealis are pink, green, yellow, blue, violet, and occasionally orange and white.

 

1) When the particles collide with oxygen, yellow and green are produced.

2) Interactions with nitrogen produce red, violet, and occasionally blue colors.

3) The type of collision makes a difference to the colors that appear in the sky: atomic nitrogen causes blue displays, while molecular nitrogen results in purple.

4) The green lights typically appear in areas up to 240 km high, red above 240 km; blue usually appears at up to 97 km; and purple and violet above 97 km.

 

These lights appear either as a static band of light, or, when the solar flares are particularly strong, as a dancing curtain of ever-changing color.

 

Are Northern Lights Disappearing for the next Decade?

No, the Northern Lights are not disappearing, but they are expected to appear less frequently over the next decade.

According to scientists, sightings of the impressive Northern Lights are set to fade over the next decade. Peter Delamere, a professor of space physics at the Geophysical Institute, has said that we are rapidly approaching the end of the 11 year solar cycle in which the aurora borealis usually occurs. This means less frequent northern lights, an effect that will likely last until  2024 or even 2026.

But, no need to panic! There is still plenty of time between 2015 and 2016 to see the Aurora Borealis in all its glory!

 

Where to See the Northern Lights (Our Favorite Spots)?

  • Tromsø, Norway

 

If you really want to maximize your chances of spotting the Aurora Borealis, you need to head north. One of the best places to spot the Northern Lights is a charming city called Tromsø in Norway.

Once at Tromsø, take a One Day Northern Lights Trip and experience an intense and exciting chase to the coast or deep into the wild, perhaps even to the Finnish border. Experienced guides will do all they can so that you will be able to spot the Northern Lights.

 

  • Akureyri, Iceland

 

Akureyri is a small, easy-going city in Northern Iceland and a great base for exploring the north's green pastures, fishing villages, mudpots, waterfalls, ski fields and whale-filled bays. Northern Lights can frequently be seen in Akureyri and surroundings from September through April on clear and crisp nights. Take a Northern Lights Tour from Akureyri for an unforgettable experience into the dark, frozen winter night where you will be able to observe an unbelievable display of color, light and texture – just like waking up in a fairy-tale.

 

  • Reykjavik, Iceland

 

Reykjavik, Iceland’s coastal capital, is surrounded by incredible landscapes. There’s never a dull day in Reykjavík during the wintertime, even if the days are dark: here you will get to experience the occasional fall of luminous snow to regular displays of Northern Lights. You will find many exciting seasonal tours available from Reykjavík.

 

When to See the Northern Lights?

 

The Northern Lights are always present, but the best time to see them is usually during the darker, winter months (from September until March), due to lower levels of light pollution and the clear, crisp air.

Still, the Aurora is a true Diva — really only appearing when it wants to. Also keep in mind that even during active periods, you won’t see it when there are clouds because the light display occurs above the clouds in the ionosphere.