The Northern Lights – also called Aurora Borealis – are one of the most spectacular shows on earth and can frequently be seen in Akureyri and surroundings from September through April on clear nights. The Northern Lights occur high above the surface of the earth where the atmosphere has become extremely thin, in an altitude of 100-250 km. 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 aurora belts that forms 20-25 degrees around the geomagnetic poles, both the north and the south.
One can use Aurora forecast to help planning a Northern Lights tour - but don't rely 100% on them as this phenomena is quite unpredictable.. and can appear even on days with low activity. The Northern Lights can be visible for a long period of a time (30 minutes upto hours) and sometimes only for a couple of minutes at a time. A camera lens, even on an instant camera can help you to see if the Northern Lights are there. In all cases you need is a clear sky - or at least a opening to the dark night sky. Here you can experience a video of the Northern Lights in North Iceland.
Current activity of Northern Lights / Aurora Borealis
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 colors but sometimes there are considerable color 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.
Several travel agencies and tour operators offer special Northern Lights trips:
Nonni Travel - A Night with Northern Lights
Saga Travel - Northern Lights & Saga Travel - Lake Mývatn Afternoon & Evening
The Travel Viking - Northern Lights
Icelandic Adventures - Private Northern Lights Tour
Inspiration-Iceland - The Dance of the Northern Lights
Pictures of the Northern Lights seen from Akureyri. Please click to make bigger.