Why You Need to Visit Iceland in 2017 If You Plan on Seeing Northern Lights

Why You Need to Visit Iceland in 2017 If You Plan on Seeing Northern Lights

If you're planning on seeing the Aurora Borealis soon - 2017 might be your last chance to see them in full glory. Here's the science of it, explained.

Why You Need to Visit Iceland in 2017 If You Plan on Seeing Northern Lights

Iceland Northern Lights

The Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights, is perhaps the most beautiful natural wonder you will ever have the opportunity of seeing. It is a swirl of magic illuminating the sky, dancing and teasing you at the same time. Travellers from far across have thronged the Arctic to watch this celestial disco in the surreal winter setting. See the mystical curtain of bright celestial hue splashes the sky with iridescent bands of colours of pink, green, yellow, blue, violet. Every performance is different; a beautiful, shifting dance of nocturnal rainbows, more like a celestial ballet of light dancing across the night sky.

Why Iceland?

The aurora at its strongest best is in the North Pole, like a halo around Earth, especially visible in central Alaska and Canada, Greenland, Iceland, and northern Scandinavia and Russia. But Iceland, for good reason, remains one among the best place of seeing them. There are many great small towns to visit around the country with beautiful country hotels and guesthouses, just steps from pure un-modernized nature.  Nourish your body and soul by bathing in the geothermal bath on a cosy evening before you go out hunting for Northern lights.

Lighthouses are great spots to capture the aurora borealis, and Akranes lighthouse — just 40 minutes from Reykjavik — is one of the best.

Lighthouses

Akranes lighthouse Northern Lights

Akranes lighthouse

The most exciting would be a super jeep tour –riding in that monster truck over snow and through rivers for the best possible view! Another fantastic way to see the lights is out on the sea on a very cosy and romantic boat tour.  A lobster dinner or a local style dinner buffet can spice up the ride before heading back to bed.

Amazing Food

lobster dinner iceland northern lights

Lobster Dinner in Iceland

Winter is also good for great ice cave tours and winter activities such as skiing, snowshoeing or husky sledding, while caves and river rafting tours are only possible during the summer. While Glacier walks and whale watching tours, the most popular activities in Iceland, operate all year long.

Best place and time

The Northern Lights are visible in cities like Reykjavik when they are at the strongest, but your best bet is to seek out spots in the Arctic countryside. You can experience the magic, blue Arctic twilight during the daytime, while the spectacle may show up at the dark sky in the evening.

The elusive and ethereal sight are typically best seen in the winter months, from late August to April, though they can be seen throughout the winter months on nights with clear skies. The fact that the aurora can change so much within the course of a night, makes it all the more fascinating.

Northern Lights Iceland

Aurora Borealis

The weather in the Arctic is as notoriously unpredictable as the Northern Lights themselves. It’s not unusual to have sunshine, clouds, rain, sleet, hail, snow, and high winds all in the same day. Just because you wake up to crystal clear skies, that doesn’t mean those crystal clear skies will stick around until Northern Lights viewing time.

The best conditions for seeing the Northern Lights are dark skies without any clouds. And usually, the less light pollution in the sky is the better time. The chemical reaction that happens up there in the sky happens regardless of cloud cover – we just can’t see it happening when it’s cloudy.

Science about Aurora Borealis

Northern Lights with Star Trails

Northern Lights

The Aurora Borealis phenomenon occurs about 60 miles above the surface of the earth. The lights streak and dance over the sea with minimal light pollution, and are formed from fast-moving, electrically charged particles that emanate from the sun. These are driven towards the Poles by the Earth’s magnetic field and their varying colours are a result of the different gases in the upper atmosphere.

 Is 2017 your last chance to see Aurora Borealis?

Northern Lights getting weaker

Experts Say the Aurora is getting Weaker

There is a growing fear among tourists about the possible fading away of Aurora. Some experts have even claimed that the activity may no longer be visible from some places. Some studies also say that the solar wind, which drives the Aurora, has dramatically weakened. They also illustrate that as the solar wind weakens, so too the chance of aurora getting weaker. This ‘disappearing’ theory may not be simply true, but what is true is that the aurora is phenomenon affected by solar activity and more or less follows a solar cycle.

 Solar cycle

Just as earth has cycles which we call seasons, the sun’s energy output also changes on a roughly 11-year basis, and we call these changes the solar cycle. Solar minimum and maximum are the two extremes of sun’s 11-year activity cycle. At a maximum, the sun is peppered with sunspots, solar flares erupt, and the sun hurls billion-ton clouds of electrified gas into space.

Solar Cycle Northern Lights

Solar Flares

We are now at the ending point of the solar maximum period. During the last solar minimum, there were few magnetic storms on the sun, sunspots were rare, and geomagnetic disturbances here on earth were nearly nonexistent.

Solar activity is fading after the maximum of 2014, and it should reach a minimum around 2020 and maximum again around 2026. The best time for auroras is usually two or three years after the maximum.

We are in fact heading into a new grand solar minimum; it stands to reason to see less of nature’s beautiful spectacle. This means less frequent northern lights, an effect that will likely last until 2026. The last couple of years did provide ample sky shows, but according to experts, we are at the beginning a downward leg of the cycle, and 2017 is the last time to see the aurora borealis in all its glory.

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