Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)

Aurora Borealis at Bakkahöfði
Aurora Borealis above Bakkahöfði two kilometers north of Húsavík © Gaukur Hjartarson

Aurora Borealis is a natural light phenomenon caused by magnetic particles from the solar wind interacting with the Earth´s atmosphere. Light displays can vary in color, intensity and movement, with the most typical being a pale fluorescent green. They can also appear in purple, red, orange and blue. The color depends on the particles being ionized and their intensity depends on the activity of the sun.

Some people also say you can hear a clapping sound accompanying the lights, which, though refuted, seems to have been confirmed in a recent Finnish study.

Solar activity is not regular and can only be predicted with a few days in the future. This means that it can happen that there are no Northern Lights in a total black sky in midwinter, no matter how far North you go, but the sky is full of Northern Lights in a bright summer night in July, only the brightness of the sky obscures them from the human eye.

Good Conditions to see Northern Lights

Even though they are a common sight in winter, witnessing Northern Lights in Iceland requires patience, luck and the following conditions:

  • Northern lights are there all year around, but they can only be seen between September and April because the summer nights are too brights.
  • The darker the night and the surrounding, the better. It’s best to head for a spot outside of towns and far away from any source of light. It is important to park your car safely or stay away from roads because you will switch of your own lights for the better view what makes it harder for the following traffic to see you.
  • The lesser clouds and clearer sky, the better. Any clouds will just cover them. Check the cloud cover forecast.
  • There must be enough solar activity.
  • The aurora forecast of the Icelandic Met office should be above 2. It is measured on a scale of 0-9. The forecast can only be done a few days ahead.
  • The longer the stay in Iceland, the higher the chance to see them.
  • Northern Lights can be anything between a multi-color fast moving light show to a small greenish and wide glow at the sky. So they may not always look like on postcards – and they are moving!

Useful Links

Aurora Forecasts
The sound of the Northern Lights
Auroras Live App

Getting There

Ultimately of course, this is largely a question of chance. You may simply be able to see them from your hotel window on the night you arrive. But to increase your odds, in Húsavík there are dedicated specialists offering tours to find the exact location with the correct cloud cover necessary for viewing.