How To See The Northern Lights: It Takes More Than Luck

How To See The Northern Lights: It Takes More Than Luck

Not many will get to witness the Northern Lights, or the Aurora Borealis as it is scientifically known, in their life time. I believe it takes more than just luck to see this spectacular show. Read on to find out how we got to see the Northern Lights, and why you need more than just luck on your side.

The Right Time of Year

The Aurora Borealis was at the forefront of our minds when we initially planned our trip to Reykjavik. Having read many an article online, we discovered that travelling between September and April would provide us with a much higher chance of witnessing the display as the nights are fully immersed into darkness. Despite the latter months of the year being known for strong winds, rain and snow, we chose the first week of November and booked our flights.

As the departure date drew closer we kept our eyes on the daily Aurora forecast and hourly cloud cover. With many sightings being reported from not only Iceland but from the UK too in the weeks leading up to our trip, we became hopeful and determined to keep ourselves in the know.


Utilising The Icelandic Met Office 

The Icelandic Met Office website was a lifeline for tracking cloud cover. Not only did it give a detailed hourly breakdown of low, middle and high clouds but also an Aurora Forecast scale of 1 to 9. Anything that shows Moderate on the scale (scale 3- 4) or above moderate  (5+) means that the clouds are clearing and that the sky will become clear.

On the evening in which we saw the Lights, the Aurora Forecast predicted a 6/10 referencing that our chances were at a ‘High’ level of visibility.

A Little Bit Of Luck

To our luck, Chris peered out of the window at 7.30pm to notice a ‘funny coloured cloud’. The forest green hue needed a further analysis in which we stepped outside, cameras in hand to see. With the naked eye alone, the clouds were moving slowly but surely, the hue brightening and darkening rapidly. Through the lens, the colours only intensified. At that moment we threw on our walking gear, grabbed the tripod and walked further along the road to a less light polluted sector: by the Kopavogur Museum.

The first dance lasted for 30-45 minutes with the colour green being the most prominent. We saw glimpses of white peak here and there which was soon overpowered by the emerald glow. We stole as many glimpses as we could, self timer self portraits, landscapes and abstract close ups to create an extensive collection of memories. The strip of harlequin beauty soon disappeared, like fog over a lake, and we made our way back to the apartment, barely containing our excitement. We had no idea of how long the Aurora Borealis would perform for nor its dependence upon the magnitude of incoming solar winds.


Why Was It Green?

The next question that sprang to mind was: Why green? We had seen many photographs of the Northern Lights, all varying in colour, shape and pattern. A little research showed that the green hue was caused by oxygen atoms and molecules being bombarded by incoming charged particles. The rays that we witnessed were from the Earth’s magnetic field becoming illuminated by incoming energy.


The Second Aurora Show

After returning to the comfort of our home away from home, we sat and reflected on what we had just witnessed. We couldn’t stop ourselves from continuing to check out of the window one last time and gaze at the night sky for any remnants of our experience. Completely to our surprise, the lights appeared again, even brighter than ever across the rooftops. The green had now become more vibrant, intwined with a piercing white trail that wove its way through the stream of light. We remained in the garden this time, photographing with the light pollution all around us, defeated in its attempt to dim the beauty of the Aurora. This performance lasted a mere 10-15 minutes, acting as an encore to the spectacular show that preceded it.

Although luck may play a huge part in seeing the Aurora Borealis, as stated here, you can increase your chances. Most importantly;

Visit at the right time of year is key – do you research before your trip

Utilise the Icelandic Met Office – track cloud cover and visibility data 

Be ready – the display only lasts a short amount of time so as soon as it is dark, be on alert to get outside with your camera

Have you seen the Northern Lights? 



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