Witnessing the northern lights is an amazing experience that many people have in their bucket list. Some people wait years—even a lifetime—to see, since the conditions need to be perfect for this spectacular display to take place.
But what Northern Light is exactly?
The bright dancing lights of northern light or aurora borealis as we called it, are actually collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere. The lights are seen above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres.
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. Variations in colour are due to the type of gas particles that are colliding. The most common auroral color, a pale yellowish-green, is produced by oxygen molecules located about 60 miles above the earth. Rare, all-red auroras are produced by high-altitude oxygen, at heights of up to 200 miles. Nitrogen produces blue or purplish-red aurora.
Where is the best place to watch Northern Light?
The best places to see it, is where it is closer to the Arctic Circle, including Alaska, Canada, Iceland, Greenland, Norway, Sweden and Finland. I read you can also spot the southern lights in the southern hemisphere. However still, the northern lights are the star of the show.
When I was planning for my trip in Iceland I focus on finding accommodation outside the city and has low light or no light pollution so we don’t have to drive far to see the elusive northern light. I thought we just have to go outside at night from time to time and look up the sky while praying hard for a clear sky
Most of the people who come to Iceland will follow the plan itinerary and then if luck is on their side, they get to see the light. Either using specific northern light tour or self drive or lucky enough to have the light present themselves outside their accommodation. I was hoping for the later one hence why I always chose accommodation that is somewhat remote.
However during my stay based on the forecast we only get clear sky on our first night when we were staying at Skalinn guesthouse, near Gulfoss. We were overslept and completely missed the light, only waking up at 3am. If we had stayed awake around 11-12pm we probably would have seen it. Though I doubted that we would be able to stay outside for a long period of time as it was terribly cold. When we woke at 3 am and went outside, it was -16 degree celcius 😱
Our Tips when chasing northern light
1. Northern light will only show herself in the area where the sky is clear without cloud. If you are going to hunt for one, check the forecast for cloud. In Iceland we use en Vedur, then drive to the white area where it says clear sky.
You can also download Hello Aurora app. Hello Aurora is a northern light application created especially to help you to spot the aurora easily and in the safest way possible. Hello aurora also provide weather information during winter. Download this app on Play Store and App Store!
2. Go to dark place with no light pollution and wait patiently in your warmest cloth 😉
3. The intensity and brightness of Northern Lights is measured on the KP scale which ranges from 0-10. About 90% of nights in a typical season would have a KP index of between 1-4, with the remainder of nights hitting what are called Geomagnetic storm level. Things get very exciting when there is a KP 5, (or Geomagnetic storm level 1), and above. However KP is not everything if you are at the right place. That night when we saw Aurora was only at KP 3, but we were in the right location and the Lady Aurora stayed for 3 hours with the first sighting at 11pm.
4. If you stay in Reykjavik area and KP is low and you are desperate already (like our situation), hire a private guide or join the small northern light tour. Don’t go with the big bus if the KP is low because big bus is most often time bound. They would just go to a designated place with a large parking lot and wait there. Find a passionate guide who would try everything to find aurora for you and even better who is willing to take your picture with the lady. We go with Willy Iceland whom I come across when doing my research for Iceland and we’re not disappointed at all. We wouldn’t be able to see one without his help.
5. If you would like a picture with lady aurora, you need to stand still for 10-20 seconds in excruciating cold weather so dress properly. Wear your warmest clothes and dress in layers. When we went hunting I wore 4 layers on top: merino wool thermal, merino wool sweater, fleece jacket and my Columbia winter jacket which can hold up to minus 10 degree Celcius. Three layer of pants: merino wool thermal underpants, Uniqlo ultrawarm pants and thick heat tech Uniqlo pants. I also put on 2 thick wool socks, scarf to cover my face, wool beanie, thick gloves and hot hands. Read our tips here.
6. Northern light makes its appearance from September to March However the best month to see northern light is September to November. Even though December and January have the longest dark nights, they’re actually not the best months because the weather is often bad and northern light appearance need a good weather. March is already the last season. Your chances of good clear sky is high but the KP is usually low.
This is our first sighting at the first location. We couldn’t see anything but our guide said to wait and said that he could see it already from his camera lens.
Then we move to the second location where this time all of us could see the light and started taking pictures. And just after a few moment suddenly the sky actually burst into green colours and we can see the corona and the dancing aurora.
Our third location
Group picture with our guide
Good luck hunting northern light !! ☺️