Aurora Borealis – The Northern Lights

Dancing in the overhead skies, the Northern Lights are one of the world’s most spellbinding natural wonders. These dancing lights are at the top of all bucket lists and bring hundreds of thousands of visitors to Iceland and other countries where the lights are visible every year. Depending on the weather conditions, the cloud cover, and the location, they can be hard to spot or easily sighted. However, Iceland is one the many perfect destinations to check out the beautiful phenomenon that is the Aurora Borealis. The name ‘Aurora Borealis’ translates to ‘Dawn of the North’. It was named after the Aurora, the Roman goddess of dawn who is known to travel all over the world to announce the arrival of dawn.

What are the Northern Lights?

The northern lights, or the Aurora Borealis, is the beautiful phenomenon of dancing waves of light in the sky that have captivated people for centuries. These lights are completely natural and come in multiple shades of the spectrum The bright colors of the northern lights are dictated by the chemical composition of Earth’s atmosphere. Every type of atom or molecule, whether it is a hydrogen atom or a molecule like carbon dioxide, absorbs and radiates its own rare and unique set of colors. Therefore different places have different colors in their lights depending upon the air of the area.

How are the Northern Lights formed?

The Northern Lights are the visible result of the solar particles from the sun entering the earth’s magnetic field and reacting high in the atmosphere. The intensity of these particles and the reaction in the atmosphere depends on the activity of the sun and the speed of acceleration of the particles. They appear as lights dancing and moving high in the sky and vary in a wide range of colors. The lights usually appear green, but occasionally also purple, red, pink, orange and blue. Their colors depend on the elements being ionized amongst other factors. However, the solar activity is not regular in nature. Even if it is a dark, clear night, there could still be absolutely no chance of seeing the northern lights due to a lack of solar activity. It also means that the sky could practically be alive with northern lights on a midsummer day, but the sun’s brightness obscures them and hides them from view. Due to the nature of the magnetic field of the earth, the auroras only appear at the poles. The temperature above the surface of the sun is millions of degrees Celsius. At this temperature, collisions between gas molecules are frequent and very explosive. There are free electrons and protons thrown from the sun’s atmosphere due to the rotation of the sun and escape through holes in the magnetic field. They are blown towards the earth by the solar wind and the charged particles are largely deflected by the magnetic field of the earth. However, the earth’s magnetic field is weaker at the poles and therefore some particles enter the earth’s atmosphere and collide with the present gas particles. These collisions emit light that we observe as the dancing lights. They are usually visible above the 60° latitude mark in the north and below the 60° latitude mark in the south. The ‘Southern Lights’ or the lights in the southern part are called the Aurora Australis. Iceland, which sits at a latitude of approximately 64° north is therefore ideally located to see the aurora.

The best time of the year to visit the northern lights is between September and April when the sky gets dark enough to see the aurora. The northern local regions experience the midnight sun which is twenty four hours of daylight in the summer. The most action and visibility usually occurs between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. according to the researches and universities of Alaska. It is important to keep the phases of the moon in mind, as a bright full moon might fill the night sky with light. It is also useful to check the local weather forecasts as well, because it would be difficult to be able to spot the aurora through the clouds.

This natural phenomenon is of the kind that has to be witnessed at least once in a lifetime. There are various tour guides available online for those who want to plan their trips to this beautiful place. The Northern Lights are a spectacle beyond imagination. Just look at a picture of the lights and experience the attraction of the infamous Aurora Borealis.