While travelers can witness Iceland's northern lights in person from September to March, these photos showcase the wonders of the aurora borealis all year round.
For centuries, aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights or the polar lights, have dazzled those who reside in the highest latitudes of the Earth. The Iceland northern lights are visible in the skies above from September to March, dancing through the skies and casting a greenish glow on the cities and fjords below.
The northern lights are one of nature's most dazzling spectacles, and you don't need any special equipment to view them. You just need to be in the right place at the right time.
Why The Northern Lights Glow
Electricity is what causes this phenomenon, and it all starts with the sun. The interaction of solar wind and Earth's magnetic field creates what we call the aurora borealis.
Highly charged particles from the solar winds interact with Earth's magnetosphere. These particles get trapped in the Earth's magnetic field, and they circle back and forth around the magnetic pole.
While in this magnetic trap, some particles leak into the Earth's atmosphere, hitting Earth's atmospheric molecules. These collisions cause the molecules to glow, creating the northern lights.
Due to Earth's magnetic pull, the lights usually appear at latitudes of 60 degrees or above. At about 64 degrees, Iceland creates the perfect storm for the aurora borealis.
Aurora Borealis Mythology
The other-worldliness of these lights has drawn intrigue and spurred legends over the years. They've been called everything from a celestial warning to the glinting armor of the Valkyries – legendary female Norse warriors.
The ancient Greeks believed that aurora borealis represented the goddess of dawn, running across the sky to alert the sun and moon deities of a new day.
Some ancient residents of France and Italy saw the lights as a bad omen — this could be because auroras sometimes appear red due to the intense solar activity. They associated the celestial lights with war, plague, and death. Furthermore, in Scotland and England, it's rumored that red emblazoned the sky just a few weeks before the French Revolution occurred.
Lastly, many early Chinese legends about auroras are populated with the idea that dragons caused the northern lights. These dragons were said to have fought in a celestial battle between good and evil, breathing fire across the sky. One of the oldest known aurora sightings was recorded in China in the year 2600 B.C.
When And Where To View The Northern Lights
Auroras can appear on any dark night near the Arctic Circle. Winter nights are usually a good starting point — but ideally it'd be a night near the spring and fall equinoxes in March and September.
Kirkjufell Mountain on the west coast is a highly acclaimed viewing location in the country. But on especially clear nights, you can catch the Iceland northern lights in Reykjavik's suburbs. The Grotta Lighthouse is a very popular viewing spot.
Iceland may be one of the preferred places to see the natural phenomenon, but it's far from the only place you can view the lights.
Finland has a tourist trick up its sleeves when it comes to viewing of the aurora borealis. They have a hotel consisting of glass igloos that serve as the perfect vantage point — and they're luxurious to boot.
Norway and Greenland are also excellent viewing spots, as are northwest areas of Canada, due to the latitude and lack of light pollution. There's a better than average chance you'll see lights over Prosperous Lake in the city of Yellowknife. You can even watch a live feed, brought to you by the Canadian Space Agency.
Fairbanks, Alaska is likely the best place to see aurora borealis in the United States. The city is located inside the Auroral Oval; the area hovering above the North Pole. This means sighting chances are very good from the end of August through the end of April.