We always wanted to see northern lights and so, we went hunting northern lights to celebrate our 2nd wedding anniversary. It was our first night in Reykjavik. We were informed by our local guide Jon Frosti that we had a slim chance to see Aurora that night. Nevertheless, we were super excited and started to get ready for the freezing night ahead of us. Yeah, our anniversary falls on 20th January! Needless to mention, that we were dressed in our very best winter clothing and I can easily admit that we were freezing most of the time anyway. – 20 °C (-4 F) with 20 miles/hr gusts of spine chilling winds. But, it was TOTALLY worth it!
At first, I was a little disappointed. We reached a remote spot and as our local guide Jon took a picture of a cloud with a green flash behind it, I thought that was it! Really? We were freezing in this cold JUST to take a picture of this white cloud? I was craving for a more spectacular display.
We started to drive more towards north in search of better view. After half an hour, we saw the white faded band again. Intensity of the band was increasing and decreasing constantly. My disappointment was increasing and decreasing with it as well 😊. All of a sudden that white band disappeared. We waited and waited but no luck. My heart began sinking and I somehow thought I wasn’t going to see the Aurora dance after all.
Like a vagabond in search of food, we decided to drive again for 10 more minutes and stopped at light pollution free, windy, isolated, dark place. I took a sigh of relief as the white band was again visible. It was so freezing cold that we couldn’t feel our hands and feet. Jon offered us some hot chocolate and then we decided to offer our prayers to Lady Aurora in the form of an Aurora Dance 😊. We decided to go and sit in the car and wait. The warm car was like second heaven and honestly, I was losing my will to step out side again. . Suddenly Jon asked us to step out at once!.The moment finally arrived. Lady aurora heard us and came and started dancing for us in all the magical different colors! All the photo credits to Jon.
Watching Northern Lights live in the sky dancing gave me goose bumps and had me welling up with tears in no time. It made me utterly overwhelmed by the power of nature and enormity of our universe. It was 12 am in the night. We kissed and wished each other happy 2nd anniversary. Suddenly, we heard some voice from behind. It was our guide Jon, he was saying that Icelanders believed that conceiving a child under the lights brought eternal luck. We looked at each other and said it’s too early and all of us started to laugh like crazy 😊. I can’t think of many experiences I’ve had that have been more magical than watching the Northern Lights dance in the arms of my love. They’re definitely worth the time, expense, and the freezing cold to see them at least once in a lifetime.
Now as a scientist, I am allowed to give our some nerdy facts 😉. Here, you go with important information about the northern lights.
What is Northern light (Aurora Borealis)?
Northern light happens when solar waves from the sun enter earth’s atmostphere where the magnetic field is weak enough to allow them in and collide violently with gas atoms (Oxygen, Nitrogen). It is more visible at places like Iceland, Alaska, Canada, Finland, Denmark, Sweden& Norway.
What colors do you expect to see and why?
You can see many different colors like green (emits at 557 nm), red (630 nm), blue (428 nm), yellow and pink. Green is the most common color for northern lights. It occurs at altitude of around 60 to 150 miles when oxygen atom is excited, which radiates it at the green wavelength. However, the red color comes from atomic oxygen at the highest altitudes (150 miles). Blue is visible at even lower altitudes (60 miles) when reacting with molecular. Blue and purple only shows up at the highest levels of solar activity and is not as common as green. Yellow and pink shades can also be visible when red mix with green or blue.
Sunspots and cycles (11-Year Solar Cycle)
The sun also has a pulse (sunspots). Every eleven years, sometimes pulse runs low or sometimes its faster. Solar cycle is generally measured by the number of sunspots visible on the sun.
More Sunspot, More Solar flare, More Aurora activities.
Tips before you go chasing the Northern lights:
Prime viewing time: 9 pm to 2 am
Appropriate time of the year: September to March
Camera setting: Tripod required (reduce vibrations), Manual setting- Exposure time (2 -20 seconds), Lens (wide angle lens 14-35mm), Aperture (lowest f-stop), ISO (1600-2500).
Visual of Northern lights: Camera sees them better than human eye. Human eye primarily views the Northern Lights in faint colors and shades of gray and white. DSLR camera sensors don’t have that limitation.
Flights to Reykjavik: We have taken easy jet 3 hrs direct flight from London. There are many direct flight from other locations like New York (6 hrs), Toronto (5hrs 20 mins), Helsinki (3 hrs 55 mins), Frankfurt (3hrs 40 mins), Amsterdam (3hrs 20 mins)…
One of the best tour Guide in Iceland: Jon Frosti ( http://solstice.is ) , Trip advisory reviews ( https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g189970-d2190185-Reviews-Solstice_Tours-Reykjavik_Capital_Region.html )
Website to visit for live aurora forecast: Icelandic weather and aurora forecast is quite accurate. You should keep track for light pollution free, less cloudy and dark night.
Interesting facts: There are few hotels in Iceland offer an aurora alarm service if you don’t want to stay up waiting.
At the end, I would like to mention that keep looking for northern lights. They are unpredictable. If you don’t see it first night, try another night. If you still don’t see them try another time. I would suggest don’t go only for the Northern Lights; go for the destination.
Good Luck for Aurora Hunting!
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