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Northern Lights in Iceland: my full guide to see them

Welcome to my full guide about how to see and photograph the northern lights in Iceland, the best places, period, months and hours,and some WRONG urban legends.

I will also write about some more advanced topics related to the northern lights such as why the northern lights appear in the sky, their relation with the sun activity and the sunspots, including all the tips i used to see it in the past years with great satisfaction during my 4 trips, 1 of which in Norway, and 3 of which in Iceland…..in particular, i will focus on the latter…Iceland!

Travel Iceland Aurora Borealis Northern Lights

Northern lights captured from the Ring Road of Iceland, between Vik and Alftaver

DISCLAIMER: the present article has been realized in pure amateur form with a mere recreational, personal, non profit intention. Therefore, the author cannot guarantee in any case the absence of errors or the freshness of the informations reported. For this reason he strictly invites any reader to also search for more informations about the same arguments inside other external sources, and to report any eventual mistake to the author through the Contact page on this website. In any case the author will not be responsible for any action committed by anyone following the reading of the informations reported inside this article

YOU CAN ADD ME ON FACEBOOK FOR HELP!

READ MY OTHER ICELAND GUIDES, RIGHT MENU, ICELAND SECTION ——->>

VISIT MY OFFICIAL PHOTOGRAPHY WEBSITE

ARTICLE INDEX

This is the list of article paragraphs

    • INTRODUCTION PART (BELOW THE COMPLETE GUIDE):
        • NEW ARTICLE UPDATES
        • THE ONLINE VIRTUAL NORTHERN LIGHTS EXPERIENCE
        • FIRST BASIC INTRODUCTION TO NORTHERN LIGHTS
        • INTRODUCTION TO ICELAND: WHY I LOVE IT
        • HOW I PREPARED MY TRIP
    • COMPLETE GUIDE TO SEE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS:
        • FIRST ENIGMATIC QUESTION: HOW MANY NIGHTS TO STAY
        • SECOND ENIGMATIC QUESTION: WHAT IF I FAIL
        • THIRD ENIGMATIC QUESTION: RAIN FOR 7 DAYS, WHAT NOW???
        • HOW TO CORRECTLY CHECK WEATHERCAST
        • HOW TO CHECK THE GEOMAGNETIC ACTIVITY
        • BEST ICELAND PLACE, BEST MONTH, BEST WEEK, AND BEST TIME FOR NORTHERN LIGHTS
        • FURTHER CONSIDERATIONS:
            • THE HUMAN EYES: HOW THEY REALLY SEE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS
            • THE 11 YEARS SUN CYCLE: HOW IT INFLUENCES THE AURORA
            • ARE 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 AND SO ON, NICE YEARS TO SEE NORTHERN LIGHTS?
            • PREDICT THE NORTHERN LIGHTS WITH 27 DAYS SUNSPOTS CYCLE
            • COMPLETE GUIDE TO PHOTOGRAPHY OF NORTHERN LIGHTS
    • CONCLUSION

BEWARE: THIS ARTICLE IS ONLY MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

Before proceeding i want to make clear that this article is ONLY the result of my personal opinion and experience in Iceland

I can’t guarantee that it’s free of errors or enough updated, and I strictly invite any reader to check other websites too for a more redundant information

Northern lights over the jokulsarlon iceberg lagoon Iceland

Northern lights over the jokulsarlon iceberg lagoon Iceland

WHO I AM AND MY NORTHERN LIGHTS JOURNEYS

I am a 10 years experienced and internationally awarded photographer who is fallen in love with the northern lights in 2012. It’s possible to read my entire biography at this link Moyan Brenn Biography

This is a list of the journeys i have undertaken to see the northern lights:

  • February 2012, Norway: saw the northern lights 2 nights out of 3
  • September 2013, Iceland: saw the northern lights 3 nights out of 7
  • March/April 2014, Iceland: saw the northern lights 2 nights out of 5
  • September 2015, Iceland: saw the northern lights 3 nights out of 8 (also a solar storm, on September 11th, Friday)

MY ARTICLE FEATURED ON CNN! 

I’m very happy that CNN has used my article as a reference to create their content by also interviewing me by email and by publishing an article about aurora and my tips too! I didn’t think it would have ever happened. After all i wrote this article just for fun! Here are 2 screenshots of their article, while clicking here the entire page can be seen:

CNN ARTICLE ABOUT AURORA BOREALIS FEATURING MOYAN BRENN

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 THANK YOU TO FRIENDS WHO TOLD ME THEY SAW THE AURORA

I want to thanks all my friends who wrote me back to let me know they saw the aurora…I’m very glad i was able to assist them in better preparing their trip…..the best way i know to feeling closer to Iceland and aurora while i am at home, is being part of their plans…..it really lets me feel i’m still in Iceland…….

THE ONLINE NORTHERN LIGHTS VIRTUAL EXPERIENCE

While surfing on the web, one day i’ve found this online simulator realized by Goran Strand aurora borealis simulator ! Turn off the light, rise up the volume, and click on the “skip intro” button on bottom right corner. Then by holding down the left mouse button, it is possible to rotate the view all around and enjoy the atmosphere!

Goran Strand has done a very great job with it! i hope you will appreciate it!

AURORA BOREALIS: A VIRTUAL REALITY EXPERIENCE

Immagine

ATTENTION: BEST PLACES TO SEE IN ICELAND

Dear friends, since many of you have asked me for a list of nice places to see in Iceland, i have decided to make a dedicated article. It is available here, please have a look and don’t forget that this is only a personal favourite list

MY FAVOURITE PLACES TO SEE IN ICELAND

A FIRST BASIC INTRODUCTION: WHAT ARE AND WHERE NORTHERN LIGHTS CAN BE SEEN

NOTE: in this paragraph there are only basic notions for a first reading. I have written more advanced notions in the rest of the article.

While at the beginning i wanted to simply understand where northern lights could be seen, i furtherly finished to be curious to know what the northern lights were from a scientific point of view…..Well, i have tried to satisfy my curiosity and found on internet the following informations

MY NORTHERN LIGHTS GALLERY CAN BE SEEN HERE

  • What are northern lights, a little example: to make an easy example, imagine how a neon light works. Inside the lamp there’s a gas. Once i turn the switch on, the gas is flooded by electricity, which generates, as a reaction, the light in my room:

More or less i think the same happens with the northern lights

  • What are northern lights, a further explanation: This is only a generic explanation summarized by me. In the atmosphere we have some gases, among which oxygen and nitrogen. Sometimes, due to some “energetic” phenomenons that happens on the surface of the sun, called sunspots, solar flares and coronal mass ejections or CME, the earth atmosphere is irradiated by electrons and protons, through an aerial flow which is commonly called “solar wind”. When they reach the atmosphere, these particles are attracted by earth magnetic poles areas where they forms concentric circles called Aurora Ovals, and where they continuously collide with molecules of oxygen and nitrogen. When this happens, the impact causes the release of photons, which are the particles responsible for producing the visible light which everyone can see. The more the strength of the solar wind, and the higher the expansion of the Aurora Ovals from the Poles toward the Equator, thus making Aurora, in very special conditions, visible even from North Italy (check below to see some photos of this, by clicking on the Cortina D’Ampezzo page link)

 

  • What are sunspots, solar flare and CME:  I’ve tried to figure out on the web what they are and to write my small explanation. I’ve understood that sunspots are regions on the surface of the sun of reduced temperature and energy which appear as dark stains when observed with our instruments, due to the fact that the surface around them is extremely bright. It’s similar to when i take a picture in counterlight: the sun and the sky look nice, while people look black and dark. Well, the same is with sunspots. They appear black for this reason, otherwise, if they could be observed isolated in the space, they would be 10 times brighter than the moon.

The reason for their formation seems to be that the sun, differently from the earth, rotates with different speeds from Equator throughout the poles, a property which causes its magnetic field to continuously warp and twist. Consequently, sometimes, we assist to the creation of smaller and randomly generated superficial magnetic poles in the area of the two middle latitude bands on either sides of the sun equator.

Sometimes, due to the excessive twisting of the magnetic field lines which compose the sunspots, and that continuously cross and reconnect, it is possible to observe the release of huge explosions called solar flare with an energy comparable to that of millions of hydrogen bombs. Some of them are so intense that they can even disrupt radio communications on earth. When it happens, they are defined as X Class Solar Flare.

Furtherly, sometimes sunspots can generate a second phenomenon called coronal mass ejection, or CME, which is the result of the breakage of these magnetic field lines, capable of making the sun plasma exploding and releasing massive energy

Me and my girlfriend under a beautiful KP Index 7 aurora borealis

Me and my girlfriend under a beautiful KP Index 7 aurora borealis

  • Which colors are visible through the northern lights: following, is an explanation of the gases involved and the colors they are responsible for:
    • Northern lights yellow/green colors: caused by Oxygen at low altitude
    • Northern lights red colors: caused by Oxygen at high altitude
    • Northern lights blue/purple colors: caused by Nitrogen
  • Do northern lights appear under the clouds?: no! they appear very high in the sky, over the clouds although it can be spotted from an airplane during a flight
  • Which is the average northern lights altitude?: between 80km and 300km
  • Where are northern lights? in which part of atmosphere do they appear? do they appear in the space?: they appear in the thermosphere, which is above the mesosphere, the stratosphere and the troposphere and beneath the exosphere

“Earth’s atmosphere” by Kelvinsong – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

  • Where is it possible to see the northern lights: based on my experience, the “rule of thumb” seems to be, the more i move closer to the north magnetic inside the auroral oval, and the greater the chance to see it (although aurora oval is dynamic and it extends itself based on the intensity of geomagnetic activity)

This answer seems too much generic, so as a further information, some examples of places where aurora can be seen often are: Alaska, north part of Scandinavia, Iceland, most part of Canada, and Greenland.

Note: sounds strange but since it’s important to stay within the auroral oval, it looks like going too much closer to North Pole in turn would decrease the chances. To better understand why, just look at the auroral oval representation map below. As depicted in the picture, the auroral oval in the middle is empty

For completeness, it’s also interesting that in some very rare circumstances, when the energy in the atmosphere was very very high due to a phenomenon known as X Class Solar Fare, northern lights have been visible even from the entire Europe and USA

For example, in 1859, they have been visible even from Cuba and Rome in Italy, through a unique phenomenon which has been called the Carrington Event. That year, newspapers from all the world reported the phenomenon, and following an entire extraction of articles from that period talking about the solar storm observation

As another example, in 2003, someone has been able to photograph the northern lights even from the italian Alps and from Tuscany, Grosseto city. Here is the proof (pictures taken from italian location Cortina D’Ampezzo in October 2003):

 CORTINA D’AMPEZZO NORTHERN LIGHTS PHOTOS 

Please read the rest of the article for more details about where northern lights can bee seen in Iceland

  • Is aurora visible only on earth? what about other planets?: oh yes, sounds romantic, aurora can also be seen from other planets like Jupiter, Saturn and not only! Here below is a proof, a blue aurora seen from Jupiter thanks to the Hubble telescope!
Jupiter.Aurora.HST.UV

“Jupiter.Aurora.HST.UV” by John T. Clarke (University of Michigan), ESA, NASA – http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2000/38/image/a/, http://apod.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap001219.html. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

ANY DIFFERENCE WITH AURORA BOREALIS??

No…..It’s just a different way to call the northern lights! it’s more an astronomical version of the name! that’s it!  

NOW SOME WORDS ON ICELAND: WHY I LOVE IT

It’s time to talk about this country and why I love it so much:

  • BETTER TEMPERATURE: the temperature is better respect to Scandinavian peninsula and North America, thanks to the Gulf stream that keeps it warmer. The statistical data of last decades are clear. Iceland is less cold than Scandinavian peninsula, Canada and Alaska. In particular it is possible to take a look to the historical statistics by checking this website

WEATHERBASE HISTORICAL WEATHERCAST

I tried to insert some locations to compare data for example between Reykjavik and cities like Anchorage, Rovaniemi or Toronto. The icelandic capital was clearly warmer in winter

  • SITUATED INSIDE THE AURORAL OVAL: as depicted in the graph below, where the red ring represents the auroral oval traveling all around the earth, Iceland is still nicely situated inside this red ring, in a similar manner of Cape North, reason why, chances to see northern lights are good

Note: the auroral oval is empty in the middle, thus the perfect spot seems to be the area of Greenland, Iceland, north of Scandinavia and similar countries. As i have read somewhere infact, and also like “logic” suggests, it looks like going further than this toward the North Pole seems to lower again the chances in the same manner of going toward the Equator. Don’t know how much is true, but it sounds plausible :

Copyright by Wikipedia common, EricDonovan

Copyright by Wikipedia common, EricDonovan

The picture above shows a graphical representation of the auroral oval evolution on the north emisphere. It shows how the concentric circles of aurora spread over the world using the magnetic pole as their epicenter instead of the north pole. As far as they touch north of Scandinavia, they touch Iceland too

Aurora during september in the east area of Vik

Aurora during september in the east area of Vik

  • CHEAPER (at least for now): Although things can change in the future with the fluctuation of currency change, probably thanks to the 2008 bankruptcy crysis, at present time my flight cost was quite affordable, especially from England or Denmark, and, more important, life cost in general for me was quite acceptable. I will never forget when I paid 35 euros for a cheeseburger, some potatoes and a coke in a Norwegian pub…..something like this has never happened to me in Iceland, in my last september trip, where for the same 35 euros, they served me a very nice main course of fresh fish, fried chips, and even an icelandic typical yogurt called Skir

Note: in my article “Iceland, 10 myths debunked”, i have reported the general price of some food in 2015 that i have found during my journey

  • MANY THINGS TO DO: Iceland is so full of things to do that, although a tourist won’t see the aurora, i think he will be still happy with the trip itself. At the link below it is possible to see a list of my favourite things to see:

LIST OF MY FAVOURITE PLACES OF ICELAND

HOW I PREPARED MY TRIP

For more tips to prepare a travel in Iceland, i wrote 2 articles with all the necessary recommendations plus my entire travel story of my latest 3th trip: 

       1)   BACK FROM ICELAND: OUR STORY + 25 MORE USEFUL TIPS

2)  THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE VISITING ICELAND

      

iceland northern ligths aurora borealis jokulsarlon

Iceland, the northern lights over the icebergs lagoon of Jokulsarlon, right after the dusk

FIRST ENIGMATIC QUESTION: HOW MANY NIGHTS I STAYED?

More or less within 5/6 nights i saw it in 2 different trips. During my first trip i even saw it in 3 nights. But in turn it also happened that my friend didn’t see it for 4 nights in a row. 

Basically, it must be understood that sometimes it can be cloudy, sometimes it won’t appear even with a clear sky, and that the only strategy is to stay as many nights as possible based on one’s budget

SECOND ENIGMATIC QUESTION: WHAT IF I FAIL?

The winning strategy for me is to be “wise” and “down to earth”. It should be understood that “higher chance” is different from “100% certainty”. Therefore in my opinion it’s very important to organize a trip to firstly visit Iceland since it really offers tons of beautiful natural wonders

For this reason, i personally don’t like to focus the entire trip only on the aurora. It could be a useless loss of money. Even the most expert guy can be unlucky and not able to see it.

As a further suggestion, just to enjoy some time while waiting for a better sky, it is possible to visit the Northern Lights Center in Reykjavik, full of very interesting and accurate informations, plus some beautiful pictures on wide screens and nice souvenirs. I personally visited it and found it very interesting:

Northern Light Center Official Website

Us under the northern lights in Alftaver, near Klaustur

Us under a KP7 geomagnetic storm northern lights in Alftaver, near Klaustur

THIRD ENIGMATIC QUESTION: RAIN FOR 7 DAYS, WHAT NOW???

Ok, stop now……..there’s a good news you should be aware of: don’t check the weathercast for more than the next 12 hours….not joking……the weather in Iceland changes soooo easily that the weathercast offices are totally unable to predict the situation for more than 12 hours

Really, i’m serious, i can’t describe  how many times they are wrong.

Weathercast in Iceland is reliable only for not more than 12 hours, except for some rare occasions when the weather is particularly stable (guess how many times?? eh eh eh easy answers!)

Icelandic people agree with me, i have interviewed some and they agree on the fact that the weathercast can’t be used for more than the next 12 hours

Concluding, if you are at home, ready to depart for Iceland, and the weather says bad for the next 2 weeks, don’t be sad, you can still find lot of sun….

It happened to me too for real!! 7 days of rain forecasted before i departed…….guess what……i found the sun in every place i visited!!!

Northern lights from my march 2014 trip, seen from f-road 326, outside the Steinsholt guesthouse

Northern lights in March 2014, seen from f-road 326, outside the Steinsholt guesthouse farm

HOW I CHECK THE WEATHERCAST

I like to do it in 3 foundamental steps. Let’s show them one by one:

STEP 1: Check the WINDYTY REAL TIME MAP below which show RAIN and CLOUDS:

To begin and try to figure out how to see the northern lights, before it becomes dark, as a first step I find very useful to check the Windyty real time map below. It provides very good and precise real time and/or forecast information about where there is a clear sky, where it is raining and where it is cloudy

INSTRUCTIONS:

1) Click on the map below to open the real time view of rain and clouds

2) Select the Time from the bottom right menu

3) Ensure that Cloud & Rain is selected in the bottom right menu

LEGEND:

Dark: clear sky areas (good to see the aurora borealis)

Grey: clouds without rain (not good to see aurora borealis)

Blue/Green/Red: rain (not good to see aurora borealis)

Screenshot from 2016-02-19 16:50:48

The reason why this map is important is that sometimes just 40 kilometers from the actual location where it is raining at the moment, the sky could be unexpectedly clean….by checking exclusively the weathercast of the actual place can be limiting. Instead, when i analyze the entire map and check the cloud and rain coverage situation, i try to find and reach with my car an area with a more clear sky, and that is why this website can dramatically increase the chances. It really happened to me while i was in Iceland….

One night in my guesthouse area it was raining. I checked the cloud coverage map. It said clear sky at about 40 km from where i was. I took the jeep, i got there, and i saw it! when i came back to the guesthouse, the receptionist couldn’t believe i made those pictures during that rainy night! For her, it was just raining outside!

NOTE ON RELIABILITY: it’s very important to keep in mind that although very useful, this real time map could lack of precision, because as maybe everyone knows, every technology has its imperfections. Just keep this in mind

WHEN AND HOW TO MOVE WITH THE MAP: Regarding when and how to move respect to what the map says, of course the best strategy would be to not book any hotel and to drive all day long toward places where the sky looks clear on the weathercast.

However, for my personal taste, during my trips I preferred to book hotels in advance and to chase clear skies with my car in a range of maximum 100 km per night, because i was interested also to visit famous places instead of just chasing the aurora. I didn’t want to stay in less interesting places for a long time just because the sky was clear. After all, i wanted to see Iceland as well, and all its beautiful things.

For this reason, i preferred to book some guesthouses in some “strategic points” from which it was easy to reach enough good places. For example, i really liked to stay in Hvollsvollur area, as well as in Klaustur area.

STEP 2: Check the Webcams of Iceland before it’s dark

As a second step i also try to check the webcams of Iceland to see how the situation is going in all the areas to better decide where i could think to go

It is possible to check a very long list of webcams at these 2 websites:

Iceland Webcam Galore: complete list of Iceland webcam with search engine also

Vegagerdin official Iceland Road webcams: webcams directly on the map for an easier research

STEP 3: Check the horizon with naked eyes

This is also a good step which helps to increase the awareness of the situation in the sky. By checking with naked eyes, although the viewing distance is limited, it’s possible to have a limited but very realistic view of the entire area when one is staying

View from our guesthouse of the northern lights in the middle of the clouds

View from our guesthouse of the northern lights in the middle of the clouds

EXTRA STEPS:  A COUPLE OF MORE TIPS ON WEATHER

  • The wind in Iceland can be very strong. I usually don’t stop in checking the clouds conditions. I do the same for the wind speed and direction every night which can be done from the same Windyty map above by selecting from the bottom right menu the “Wind option”. Watching the aurora can require some hours, and a strong wind can make it annoying or even impossible (it happened to me too). So i try to search for a place with a clear sky but at the same time with a moderate wind prediction on the weathercast map
  • Buy an Icelandic mobile simcard with SIMINN or NOVA: having the 3G signal while driving is very nice to check the weather while far from the hotel. So, just in case the actual sim owned can’t be used in Iceland or in case it presents unconvenient fares, a new one with a local mobile operator like SIMINN or NOVA can be easily bought at the big department store of Keflavik airport (open also in the night) or onboard of a flight of Icelandair to install it on a mobile phone. There are also further stores throughout Iceland which can be checked on the official website reported below to buy it, although i haven’t personally checked this. It’s the perfect solution to have the 3G/4G connection available with a convenient fare all the time to be able to continuously check the weathercast, especially when staying far from hotels and wifi connections, or also other useful informations in case of emergency

Where to buy SIMINN or NOVA mobile sim card: as said, i found it onboard of Icelandair flights and on the department store of Keflavik airport. Apart from that, following is a list of SIMINN stores

Iceland mobile 3G/4G signal coverage map: following it is possible to further check also the coverage 3G/4G coverage map

How to use NOVA and SIMINN simcard: Nova is easier since it just need to be mounted and it’s already active. Rather, Siminn must be firstly activated by calling the assistance number and giving the card code (at least at present time)

How much do they cost: don’t remember the price of Siminn, anyway, Nova is around 14 Euros and it allows for 1Gb of internet traffic plus free call to another Nova sim number

20150909_181521

HOW I CHECK GEOMAGNETIC ACTIVITY

Now talking about forecasts and predictions, i know of people using the KP Index prediction graph available online or also some websites which make available a prediction for the following hours or days. To use them, it is enough to constantly check the latest news on the following websites (there are even more on Google)

However, i personally don’t like to do it, since forecasts and prediction, in the same manner of TV weather forecast, are subjected to mistakes and errors for reasons that everyone can easily understand. What if they tell that aurora will be absent and, rather, it will show while i am sleeping because i though that it would have been absent? it would be terrible.….

So, my personal strategy is to stay under a clear sky, and check the sky by myself all night long, until i get tired, especially between 10.00pm and 2,00am when chances are greater (based on what i read somewhere on internet and also on my experience, since i saw it throughout the entire night)

However, just for curiosity, below are some link to aurora borealis prediction websites:

DAILY AND HOURLY AURORA BOREALIS FORECAST 

REAL TIME KP-INDEX GRAPH

VEDUR OFFICE AURORA FORECAST

Copyright by NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/

Copyright by NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/

Iceland, northern lights over the Jokulsarlon iceberg lake

Iceland, northern lights over the Jokulsarlon iceberg lake

MY OPINION ABOUT BEST ICELANDIC PLACE, PERIOD, WEEK, MONTH, AND DAY TIME

  • Best direction: In Iceland i usually check every direction with a greater attention to west, north and east since all the times i saw it, it appeared from these 3 directions. After all it makes sense…..since the northern lights comes from north, maybe there’s a lower chance it appears from south. I also tried to always search for a place with these 3 directions free of obstacles
  • Best month: based on my study of a webcam situated in Tromso which reported a screenshot every hour for the last 2/3 years (it was called Tromso All Sky Camera, don’t know if still active), I found that the aurora was visible throughout the entire season between end of August and beginning of April. Personally, i saw it in February, March, April, August and September. 

Furthermore, a study of the Earth’s Physics Department of St. Petersburg University in Russia has found that during equinoxes, the sun activity is a little bit higher, passing from an average of Kp of 175 to a peak of 200, thus increasing of a 15% (more or less) the theoretical chance to see it

kp index monthly average

Image copyright of the Earth’s Physics Department of St. Petersburg University in Russia http://geo.phys.spbu.ru/

Apart from this, the other thing to evaluate is the weather and the cloud coverage. For this reason, i have decided to study a little bit the historical weather of the website Weatherspark to figure out when to go to Iceland from a more theoretical point of view.

I considered both the data of Reykjavik historical weathercast and Akureyri historical weathercast to create some sort of average result for 3 periods during which i personally saw it: August/September, March/April, and winter. In particular, the first 2 of these periods are also closer to equinox like suggested from the study reported above of the St. Petersburg University

DISCLAIMER: the following is only my personal amateur study, prone to errors. These data should not considered in any case as “absolute”.  I invite everyone to make his own study of the historical statistics

Average Min/Max temperature (Celsius):  
– August/September: 6°/12°C
– March/April: -2°/4°C
– Winter time: -4°/2°C
Result: August/September seems better. March/April has
a little advantage over winter with a slightly warmer temperature

Freezing daily percentage:
– August/September: almost 0%
– March/April: 40%
– Winter time: 55%
Result: August/September less cold, March/April looks slightly better than winter

Cloud cover percentage (total and mostly coverage, partial coverage excluded):
– August/September: 65%
– March/April: 65%
– Winter time: 60%
Result: irrelevant gap during winter. It seems to not make a great difference

Aurora boralis seen from f-road 324 during my last trip in march 2014

Aurora borealis seen from f-road 324 during my last trip in march 2014

Daily precipitations probability (rain and snow combined):
– August/September: 70%
– March/April: 75%
– Winter time: 75%
Result: irrilevant gap. It seems that precipitations are present throughout the year

Snow precipitations probability:
– August/September: 5%
– March/April: 40%
– Winter time: 55%
Result: looks like August/September is free of snow, so easier for those
afraid of road conditions, while March/April looks a little bit less snowy
than winter

Average & Max wind speed in Km/h:
– August/September: av 4 max 9/11
– March/April: av 5 max 11/13
– Winter time: av 6 max 13/15
Result: moderated wind during August/September, March/April is slightly better than winter

CONCLUSION: it seems like the cloud coverage level is almost the same throughout the entire year as well as the precipitation level. However, the period of August/September, close to the autumn equinox, seems to still present some advantages, since there is very few or no snow (so better road conditions since the entirely precipitations is made by rain), a higher temperature, and more F-roads are open to access. The wind as well looks moderated respect to winter. In turn the period of the spring equinox, March/April, looks quite similar to winter, although presenting a little bit less snow and wind speed, together with a slightly warmer temperature, reason why it could be considered still preferrable to middle of winter, except if one wishes to visit ice caves. Furthermore, both the period of August/September and March/April are closer to equinox as suggested from the study above, reason why, in my strict opinion, they could be considered 2 possible nice periods to go in Iceland

Iceland northern lights seen from Thorsmork area

Iceland northern lights seen from Thorsmork area

  • Best time of day: i saw it from early evening to late night, reason why, once it’s dark, i always get ready as soon as possible, although someone suggested that the peak period is around midnight, from 10pm o’clock to 1am o’clock. However, i think chances are enough good that it could appear also outside this hours range (as i said, i saw it around 10 o’clock as well as at 2 o’clock in the night)
  • Best week: of course the one with dark moon to me seems more preferrable, although sometimes it can happen that the moon rise time is beyond 2 o’clock in the night, by not representing a problem. Moreover, while to only see it with naked eyes dark moon seems perfect, in case of landscape photography, having the moon in the sky could help to get a shining ground instead of a dark one, although the eyes will be negatively impacted. Concluding, generally speaking, moon can help with landscape photography but it also disturbs naked eyes, while a dark moon can help people to see aurora, but pictures will have a dark landscape ground

MOON CALENDAR: here it is possible to see the moon calendar to understand when there will be a dark moon.

MOON RISE TIME: here it is possible to calculate the moon rise time

  • Best place: more or less aurora can be seen everywhere around the entire Iceland. However, Weatherbase.com eported that the south coast is the most rainy place with a greater level of precipitations, especially the area around Vik. However the general rule for me is “check the weather situation at sunset and decide where to go in advance”. As a further consideration, the north area is closer to magnetic pole, so it could offer a slightly higher chance to see it, although i am not really able to quantify it

Iceland, the northern lights over the Jokulsarlon iceberg lagoon

MY FURTHER CONSIDERATIONS: THE HUMAN PERCEPTION OF THE INTENSITY OF THE GREEN COLOR AND DANCING EFFECT

I recently received some messages from tourists who managed to see the northern lights but more like a weak white trail instead of a green one. I would like to talk about this point by listing some important factors that for my opinion could effectively affect the experience:

  • VERY DARK PLACE NEEDED: when I say “dark”, i mean “really dark”. Even the most stupid light of a house can change the experience. Aurora in my opinion is better if enjoyed with maximum of darkness, so despite the preference for a dark moon night, i always like to stay very far from even the most small source of light. As said in the article, in case of photography, the problem is less perceived, since the photocameras are capable of filtering out the disturbing lights to just emphasize the northern lights, at the point that even the moonlight instead of being counterproductive, it could aid in getting a better and brighter ground landscape
  • FOG AND HAZE: i suppose these factors can influence the experience, so it is important that the sky is very clear, in a way that lot of stars are visible. However, i can surely say that i have seen the northern lights even from an airplane, and it was still “light green” and not intense like pictures on internet even with such high altitude
Northern lights seen from an airplane flight to Reykjavik

Northern lights seen from an airplane flight to Reykjavik

  •  EYES NIGHT VISION CAPABILITY: for sure i can say that my eyes get accustomed to the dark ONLY if i keep them in total dark condition for at least 2 minutes. For this reason, i can surely say to not use the mobile phone while waiting to see the aurora, or the LCD display light could negatively affect the eyes. Apart from this i must say that some people can see also red colors while some other not. For example, last time, my girlfriend could see very nicely the red color and not that much the green color. In turn, i nicely saw the green but not the red one
  • KP INDEX AND INTENSITY CHANGE: as said the aurora must be strong for itself. There are 2 factors which influence this aspect. The first one is the KP Index (measurement of the strength of solar activity), which, for a good intensity, should be at least 4 or greater. A second factor is “how” the aurora explodes in the sky. In this sense, 2 types of aurora exist, and you must be lucky to catch the right one. The first type is called “diffuse aurora”, and it’s a generic appearance in form of static green halos and trails. The other type of aurora, is called “discrete aurora”, and it is characterized by the presence of a strong movement together with a “curtain” style effect. The latter of course, is the type of aurora everyone is searching for. Following, is a picture where the 2 types of aurora are compared. Check this link for more info:  

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN DIFFUSE AND DISCRETE AURORA

 

diffuse_discrete_aurora_borealis_northern_lights

  • THE MYTH OF AURORA PICTURES: ok, i want to say it. Aurora is not strong as pictures i see on the web. Simply speaking, cameras are better capable of capturing it respect to human eyes, and also sometimes people like to use a little bit of photoretouching to improve the result. However, it is also true that it has different intensity depending by the night, so that if one night is very weak, that doesn’t mean that it’s all a big fake. Simply, another night it will be stronger. However, no matters how strong it is, i personally think that pictures tend to be, in general, stronger than reality
  • MOVEMENT AND DANCING IS THE KEY, NOT THE COLORS: one thing people should understand is that the beautiful side of aurora is not the color itself because it appears in that way only on pictures, but the dance movement it makes in the sky (although as explained above, only the discrete aurora produces it). Infact, although the colors seen from human eyes looks more like a light green/grey, the movement of aurora sometimes can be impressive and very fast, by surprising even the most frozen heart! One night i found myself in the middle of a solar storm (11th Sep, 2015), and after a while the aurora started to dance like a crazy girl in the sky…i was so scared by this that i almost made a step back for the fear

NOTE: ok you won’t like this but it’s important to know it…..as for the colors, also the movement and dancing can change from night to night..…some nights infact the aurora is very static and appears more only in form of static green halos. However, if the night is the lucky one, you will see it dancing very very fast in a crazy manner!

Concluding, whatever thing happens, don’t lose hopes, and wait wait and wait!!

Northern lights seen some days ago from my second trip in Iceland (March/April 2014)

THE 11 YEARS SUN CYCLE AND THE NORTHERN LIGHTS: WILL 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019,2020 AND NEXT YEARS BE GOOD TO SEE NORTHERN LIGHTS?

  • IN THEORY: what makes the northern lights appearing is the atmosphere electrons irradiation generated by the sun. Year after year scientists have come to the conclusion that the sun irradiation intensity follows a 11 years cycle, during which they observed both a minimum period of activity, and a maximum one (see graph below). I have read in many websites sources that to increase the chance to see it, it could be useful to organize a trip during the years with the strongest irradiation activity, although there are some proofs which seem to demonstrate that even with a lower activity aurora is still visible.

To have an idea of the intensity for the next years, below is the graph provided by NASA. Now we are at the 24th sun cycle, and as seen from the graph, beginning from the 2016, and following the next years, 2017, 2018, 2019 and so on, it seems that chances to see aurora could become somewhat gradually weaker until the next sun cycle will take place, after which it could be possible to assist to a new “peak of intensity” around 2025 (although it is very difficult to “quantify” the reduction in chances, and we are still talking about a gradual phenomenon, not an on/off switch situation). 

In particular, it seems that this cycle, which is the 24th, as seen on the graph, has been among the weakers of the last century, but, luckily, aurora has been still visible and even strong during some nights.

Cycle22Cycle23Cycle24big

  • IN PRACTICAL TERMS: as i have learned in my life, many times theory and practice don’t coincide like we expect. Infact, apart from the “theory” above,  i noticed that i have been able to see a strong aurora during September 2013 which wasn’t a very high period of the sun cycle. Infact by looking at the graph, during September 2013 the sunspots number was quite low, around 60.

Furthermore, apart from the graph below, at this link AURORA BOREALIS OBSERVATIONS BY AURORA HUNTER there is a graph where some aurora pictures have been added with the exact indication of the moment during which they have been taken. As seen from this picture, assuming that the author has been precise in providing this indication, it seems that even with a low number of sunspots he has been able to capture it

  • A RECENT EXAMPLE OF HOW THEORY IS NOT ALWAYS GOOD: it’s unbelievable but i have just found myself in the middle of a geomagnetic storm KP Index 7 in Iceland in September 11th 2015 (Friday). Aurora started to dance in a crazy manner and it was very powerful (see picture below)……..now look at the graph…this has just happened now, in 2015, with the sun cycle being quite weak, with sunspots number smaller than 100…..this is another proof that theory sometimes can be wrong and not absolute and that aurora can get crazy even with a lower sun cycle power. Below as a proof is the graph of that day when i saw it, captured with my mobile phone
View of a special huge aurora borealis caused by an intense solar storm KP Index 7

View of a special huge aurora borealis caused by an intense solar storm KP Index 7 in September 2015

Kp7 Solar storm in September 11th 2015

Kp7 Solar storm in September 11th 2015

CONCLUSION: concluding, personally speaking, by talking in absolute terms, going there with a high number of sunspots would be better, no matters what.  Apart from this, in consideration of the 2 proofs indicated above and the example of the solar storm that i saw in 2015 during a sunspots cycle weak period, reality seems to demonstrate that aurora could be still enough visible even when the sun cycle is weaker.

Apart from these considerations and real life examples, i have found no proof to mathematically demonstrate “how much” this is true or not

Anyway, I invite anyone interested to not stopping in reading my material, and to furtherly search on the web for more informations.

And just to increase a little bit more the enthusiasm, Iceland is still a beautiful country. It really deserves to be visited, no matters if aurora will appear or not in the sky

CAN THE AURORA BE DAILY PREDICTED WITH THE 27 DAYS SUNSPOTS CYCLE?

On top of the article i have explained that i don’t like predictions and forecast because they are subjected to errors. Considering now again the usual question “how to predict northern lights?”, a more technical answer is that the number of sunspots, which are the phenomenons responsible for causing the aurora in conjunction with their coronal mass ejections (CME) and solar flares, could be partially guessed, togheter with the presence or not of the northern lights in the sky, based on what happened in the previous 27 days, although this tecnnique present a high margin of error. This is because scientists have found that the sun follows a rotation which varies between 26 days at the Equator up to 35 days at the 2 poles. However, the astronomer Richard Carrington has furtherly noted that sunspots, in particular, responsible for the earth geomagnetic irradiation with their mass coronal eruptions, follow a solar cycle of 27 days, which is called the Carrington Rotation. Look for example at the graph below. It reports the kp index level day by day for the first months of the year 2014. As seen there is a period of around 27 days during which i have found pattern repetitions. However, from the other side there are also periods where patterns are no precisely respected as well.

Note: a good day to see the aurora in the graph is one with a Kp of 3 or more

kp2013 I’m just back from Iceland, and i must say, before going, based on this analysis, I suspected that the aurora would have appeared during the first days of my trip (from 28 march 2014 to 2 april 2014). Well, I guessed it, we saw it for the first 2 nights and than no more. However, although for me worked nicely, after coming back home, and after studying further graphs of different periods, i have found that this technique it’s quite prone to errors and misunderstandings. Furthermore, being the prediction useful for a couple of months or even less, it would be difficult to book flights and hotels in such a short time frame, and to say the truth, for most people this graph is quite complicated to interpret.

Therefore, in consideration of these observations, I personally don’t like to use this prediction system

I just wanted to report this instrument for more completeness of the article and to write something more about the theory behind the northern lights.

To get the latest updated version of the graph click below

MOST RECENT DEFINITIVE INDEX

MY PHOTOGRAPHY TECHNIQUE FOR NORTHERN LIGHTS

  • Introduction: sometimes aurora was quite fast so i needed to be as quick as possible to capture it because it could suddenly disappear. Furthermore, i’ve found that the longer the shot, the greater the smooth effect, which will eliminate the “curtain” effect. Therefore, what i usually do is a compromise between exposure and high ISO, instead of just relying on long exposure with low ISO. 
  • LCD and Histogram: firstly, i always like to reduce the lcd brightness. Being in a dark environment, without doing this i could believe that my shots are bright enough, while at home they could look very dark, although it’s important to always check histogram if possible, to confirm the exposure accuracy. By making this mistake, i could be forced to increase brightness via software, and doing this at high ISO levels, can seriously increase the final noise level. 
  • Aperture: I personally like to open the lens around f3.5/f4.0, a compromise between quality, costs, and depth of field capability since this is the maximum wide aperture on most generic “kit” lenses like my Nikon 16-85 VR f3.5-f5.6. Instead, just in case i don’t trust my camera ISO and i want an extra noise level quality, if i have some money to spend i could buy and use a lens with f2.8 or even f.2.0. In this way i will need a lower ISO and the quality will be greater, but the depth of field could be a little bit limited, and also buying a wideangle lens with such apertures could be a little bit expensive. Personally, since i own a D7000 which has a good sensor, i am very happy with the quality of high iso togheter with a f4 aperture, so i decided to avoid to buy a lens with a wider aperture. I think that it just depends by the expectation of a person, by the quality of the camera body, and by the size at which one wants to see and print the pictures. I think that everyone should try for himself the camera at home and see if he is happy with high iso results
  • Exposure: i have evaluated the histograms of all the shots i have taken since today in 7 different aurora nights, and more or less, to make a shot that balances the histogram all to the right (like it happens in the ETTR technique which i personally like very much and often use), the exposure, in a total dark moon situation, with an aperture of f4.0, ranged in my case from a minimum of 30 seconds with ISO 800 to a maximum of 30 seconds with ISO 12800 when the aurora was still visible but not such intense. However, if there is still some dusk light or a half moon for example, probably a lower ISO could be required. Furtherly, since aurora constantly changes in intensity, these parameters must not be considered perfect. If aurora will be even stronger than what i saw, probably a smaller iso and a shorter exposure could be enough

Furtherly, as for wider aperture values like f2.0, also the exposure time could help with ISO quality. Infact, by increasing the exposure time from 30 to 60 seconds for example, it could be possible to reduce the ISO value. However, by doing these, the longer the exposure, the higher the “smooth” effect of the aurora which will produce only a green halo in the sky. Personally, i don’t like to go beyond 30 seconds, (or maximum 60 seconds in particular instances), but again, as for the aperture, is a question of tests and trials. I would always try my camera at home and see how much i can push the ISO, so that i can clearly decide to expose to 60 seconds to gain some quality, and at the same time to buy a wider lens with f2.8 aperture capability. In my case for example, with a D7000, i have been very happy to shoot at f4.0 and 30 seconds, by using a higher ISO, since this camera produces very good low noise shots

As a final note it’s useful to remember that most cameras, like Nikons, don’t allow to go beyond 30 seconds except if an external remote controller has been bought

Iceland northern lights seen from Klaustur Alftaver area

Iceland northern lights seen from Klaustur Alftaver area

  • Preview at home: I always like to have a preview of my camera quality at high ISO, so i don’t wait to go to Iceland. Instead i make some nightshots test at home and try to understand the maximum acceptable parameters before the quality loss becomes too much for my taste
  • Reflex is better: apart from the human mistakes, often the quality of a shot depends by the camera itself. Useless to say, I only like to use a reflex, even the cheapest one. For my personal taste even the most cheapest reflex camera like the D3100 offers me a better result than a compact camera…..again, probably it’s just a question of personal taste.
  • NOTE: did i use a full Frame camera to take aurora pictures? Personally speaking, for my taste, i believe that using a full frame camera is surely an advantage, no matters what. However, after learning very well how to use a non full frame camera (DX/APS-C models), especially by correctly exposing a picture and by applying techniques like the ETTR, and also by buying a very good one like the Nikon DX D7000, i’ve been happy with the final result without spending more money. Following are some high resolution samples taken with my “non full frame” DX D7000 camera, which is very cheap nowadays. For me, the quality is more than acceptable, and if i look inside my pockets and see how much money i have saved, i find it to be even better

As always, taking some night pictures while still at home to check the quality is the best thing to do in my opinion

  • Tripod: no need to tell, camera must be put on a tripod with the stabilizer turned off! By forgetting it, pictures will be blurred
  • Extra ISO tips: there’s an extra point i apply to furtherly reduce the noise. I like to enable the long exposure noise reduction function (very different from the standard NR function), with which the camera, after taking the picture, and before processing it, takes a second totally black picture to better understand the noise ratio signal and to be better capable of removing it (on Nikon cameras like D90 or D7000 this function is called “long exposure noise reduction”, and during this process, after the shot has been taken, the message “JOB NR” alert will appear on the top display for a time equal to that of the exposure. During this time, the camera will be unavailable to operate. Just wait for it to finish)
  • Raw Mode: Another trick to get an extra high ISO quality is to shoot in RAW mode. Latest softwares like CaptureOne or Lightroom, contain very good noise reduction algorhythms which allows to concretely gain that extra quality on shots respect to the standard compressed quality of in camera JPG. Furtherly, they also allow to apply the noise reduction on precise areas instead of to the entire shot with the “local adjustment” function, so that it is possible to save as much details as possible. Personally, i use the RAW format all the time. Its quality at 100% of size, if compared to a JPG for me is unbeatable

Aurora seen from south of Iceland, east of Vik in the first days of September

  • Auto-focus: i usually tend to create a composition and put in focus a precise subject, which can be a house, a tree, or whatever thing i want. In particular, when i wanted to focus on my jeep for example, to use it as the subject of my night shot, i used the following methods:

Friend’s help: if i am with a friend, i usually ask him to enlight my subject or simply to use and keep the mobile camera flash light turned on toward my subject (there are some mobile apps on GoogleApps which allow to use the camera flash as a light), so that i can focus directly on it. Then when i focused, i tell him to go away and take the shot

Putting the ring of the lens at infinity: ( it’s the horizontal 8 symbol on the lens ring). This is a technique used by many photographers although i personally don’t like it, since it gives me the impression that it lacks of precision. Maybe Google can help, personally i am not interested on it

  • Focal lenght: since the Aurora will be high in the sky, it’s easy to imagine that wide angle lenses are recommended. Based on my experience I think that the very least focal lenght to use is 18mm on DX/APS-C cameras, and a 28mm lens on full frame. Useless o say, smaller focal lenghts like 16mm or even 10mm could be only better since they could allow to take a wider amount of sky. It’s only a question of budget. I always used a 16mm on DX, and my cousin, very low in budget, has opted out for a 18mm DX with quite decent results for his expectations. If a person doesn’t have any special demand, probably he can be happy with 18mm. As always is a question of tastes. If one wants to take the most beautiful aurora picture out there it’s clear that a 18mm is not enough. Otherwise, if one prefers to be happy without exceeding in costs, a 18mm could be ok. Talking about me, i have choosen a middle way to balance cost/benefits, by using a 16mm DX (i’m happy with it)
  • Battery and camera protection: i always make sure the battery is fully charged and sometimes i could even consider to buy an extra one. Often i also like to protect my camera from strong cold, rain or snow if i’m going there in harsh conditions. Here is my personal trick: I wrap my camera in a transparent food bags to maintain a warm temperature. (in Italy they are called Cuki Gelo). I put the aperture of the bag on the side of the lens, and fix it with an elastic. Eventually i make some little holes with the scissors close to the buttons to make them easy to be pressed….I have found this system very good, and for me it worked very well. 
  • Condensation from outdoor to indoor: it is important to keep the camera in the bag while coming back from an outdoor place to indoor, like in the hotel after a night outside in the cold. Infact, due to the strong change in temperature, while the camera is still cold, the indoor humidity could penetrate inside it by producing condensation. To make an example, the same happens when a driver enters inside his car in the night: while breathing, he gets the window glass completely fogged due to the condensation phenomenon. That’s because the window is still too much cold, and the humidity of the breath get sticked to it. Personally, after coming back indoor, i like to keep my camera closed in the bag for a while until it becomes warmer, and only after i take it out from it

IN CASE OF FREQUENT BLURRED PICTURES I HAVE WRITTEN A PERSONAL GUIDE WITH THE TIPS I USE TO AVOID IT: “BLURRY PICTURES: MY GUIDE TO AVOID IT”

Me watching the aurora in the south of Iceland in september

CONCLUSION

I consider the approach described above as a good one to rise the chance to see the aurora and take a nice picture as much as possible. I used it 4 times, with the result of seeing it 4 nights out of 7 when I visited Iceland the first time, 2 nights out of 5 the second time in March 2014, 3 nights out of 8 the third night (including a solar storm), and 2 nights out of 3 when i visited Norway…I keep myself at disposition if someone wants to ask me for more help.

Thanks for reading!

Moyan

Copyright © Moyan Brenn and Earthincolors.wordpress.com

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Small excerpts or the pictures contained in the article may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Moyan Brenn and Earthincolors.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

Discussion

191 thoughts on “Northern Lights in Iceland: my full guide to see them

  1. Hi moyan!

    I’m not sure if you received my previous comment so here I’m leaving another one!

    I’m planning to head to Iceland in September 2016 and from your article, I checked that the full moon is from 15 September 2016 to 19 September 2015, and the Equinox is on 22 September 2015. However, my trip to Iceland and London must be between 10 September to 23 September and I’m planning to be there for 5 days.

    Hence, I’d ask if you’ll recommend me to be in Iceland from 10 sep to 15 sep or from 19 September to 23 September?

    Thank you! 🙂

    Posted by Amy | January 2, 2016, 11:20 am
    • Hi again Amy….yes i replied you..give priority to the moon, not to equinox..ensure to get there without the moon

      Posted by Moyan Brenn | January 7, 2016, 4:20 pm
      • Dear Moyan, thanks so much for your reply! However I would like to ask. Must it be completely without the moon? Or is 3/4 moon fine?

        And also, is early September too early to see the northern lights?

        Last question, I’ve been reading that the northern lights will disappear for 11 years starting from winter this year. Does that mean I’ve extremely slim chance of witnessing the lights?

        Posted by Amy | January 8, 2016, 12:36 am
      • it will not disappear like it’s an on/off switch….it will happen gradually and it will never be a total phenomenon. Furthermore, September is good..i saw it the very last days of august very strongly….regarding the moon, it just depends by its position and where the aurora will appear…aurora changes the apperance position…so just cross the finger and hope it will appear in the opposite direction of the moon..it could also happen that when the aurora appears the moon is still close to the horizon..who knows…just cross the fingers and enjoy iceland!! it’s still an amazing country, even without the aurora

        Posted by Moyan Brenn | January 8, 2016, 11:39 am
  2. Hi Moyan! Lovely guide, too late for me to learn from as I just came across after getting back from iceland and norway! Will surely try to put some of your tips into practice! Could get perfect focus on my system through my trip, not sure why! Here’s something I got along the trip:

    Posted by Jay | January 2, 2016, 4:50 pm
  3. Hello and thank you for this amazing Aurora resource you have created! I will be taking a trip to Reykjavik this March (2016) and am very eager to explore such an amazing country. I am expected to arrive in Reykjavik on March 18 and it looks like a full moon will occur on the 23. Will this completely eliminate any possibility of observing the lights with the naked eye or will the lights still be visible between the 18 and the 25?

    Thank you again! I will be sure to continue checking back at the amazing photos on your website!

    Posted by Hunter | January 6, 2016, 5:01 am
    • Hi Hunter! everything is gradual. This means that the intensity fo light of aurora could gradually diminish depending by moon size but also position. Infact it could be that when the aurora appears the moon is on the other direction, or maybe close to horizon, or even that it rises just late in the night….so just cross the fingers…you surely still have a good chance to see it especially if the moon is not full but just half

      Posted by Moyan Brenn | January 7, 2016, 4:24 pm
  4. Hi Moyan,

    Great article! I just wanted to verify, when shooting the Northern Lights at night, do you recommend using Aperture or Manual mode? I plan to visit Iceland this month and hopefully get a chance to capture the NL. Thank you in advance and your contributions to world.

    – Jimmy

    Posted by Jimmy | March 8, 2016, 3:21 am
    • Absolutely manual mode Jimmy! no reason to use aperture mode, since during long exposure it’s easy to get out of control if the exposure is controlled by the camera! cheers!

      Posted by Moyan Brenn | March 22, 2016, 9:14 am
      • Thanks for the reply Moyan! I wasn’t too sure because I understood for star photography it is best to use manual mode. So it is similar for the Northern Lights as well. Again, very awesome article and site!

        Posted by Jimmy | March 24, 2016, 11:20 am
  5. Very nice! So in theory could i see the Northern Lights in 2017?

    Posted by Ben | April 5, 2016, 3:00 pm
  6. Thanks for this amazing article! We just got back from Iceland and saw the lights for three nights!

    Posted by Vivian | April 9, 2016, 5:02 pm
  7. Hi, I am looking to visit Iceland this October but cannot decide between which week in October to go to. Based on the moon, it will be either early or end October. Any advice? Is the 28 day cycle forecast helpful?

    Posted by Mic | June 18, 2016, 3:55 pm
  8. Hey i want to ask i. Hoing there on january where do you think is the best place to see the lights in iceland and what date? I really want to see those lights thank you so much

    Posted by Erikaontherocks | June 24, 2016, 9:47 am
    • Hi Erika, the best place is the one without clouds…every afternoon before it gets dark you need to study the weathercast to understand where a clear sky is predicted….regarding the date, the week with dark moon will be the best one for me

      Posted by Moyan Brenn | June 28, 2016, 4:06 pm
  9. Hi.. Planning to visit iceland in September from 4th to 10th . Will it be possible to see northern lights and visit places around iceland? Coz i want see the norther lights and go around the places, will September be ideal for it?

    Posted by Monica | June 29, 2016, 7:56 am
  10. Hi Moyen, I really enjoyed your article. Great info! We are going to Iceland this September. Any suggestions on which week would be better to see the NL’s? September 4rd-12th or September 25th-October 3rd. Thanks in advance for any tips!

    Posted by Katie | July 5, 2016, 9:51 pm
    • Hi Katie, the choice should be made based on when there will be the dark moon…check the moon calendar by using the link inside my article and you will find it out….then you will be able to decide

      Posted by Moyan Brenn | July 8, 2016, 7:37 am
  11. Hi Moyan,

    I loved your blog, it’s so detailed! 🙂

    I had read it quite sometime back, and well I forgot to double check it before booking our tickets to Iceland. Now we are landing on 8th Oct morning at 9 AM in Rejyavik, and going back on 19th Oct to Finland for 4 days, and then back to Singapore.

    Since Northern lights was one of the key reason to go to Iceland this year, we are really looking forward to it, but reading here that the 1st week of Oct is ideal due to dark moon phase, I am very worried now.

    Which dates do you think would be best for us? Will we still have high chances on 8th and 9th Oct?

    Please do let me know. Really hoping for a positive response 🙂

    Many thanks.

    Harsha

    Posted by Harsha | July 7, 2016, 6:48 pm
    • HI Harsha! there is another factor to consider, which is the moon rise time…it could be for example that although you are going there during full moon period, maybe the moon will rise late in the night…..if you check again my article, along with the moon calendar, you will also find the moon rise time calendar to check for every night the rise time….have a look at that to get an overview…..

      Posted by Moyan Brenn | July 8, 2016, 7:39 am
  12. Hi Moyan,

    i loved the information you have given here.

    i am planning to go to icland from 3rd to 9th oct 2016 n visiting northen side of iceland. i want to ask you is there are chances of seeing northen lights during this week.

    thank you
    Falguni

    Posted by FALGUNI PATEL | August 4, 2016, 6:12 pm
  13. WE LIKE TO VISIT ROVANEIMI DURING 24TH. MARCH 2017 TO 28TH. MARCH. WE LIKE TO RECEIVE YOUR SUGGESTIONS IF IT IS RIGHT DATE TO SEE NORTHERN LIGHTS. YOUR VALUABLE SUGGESTIONS WILL BE APPRECIATED. GOENKA JP –FROM INDIA. MY MAIL — jp.goenka@unitedchemie.com

    Posted by GOENKA JAI PRAKASH | August 21, 2016, 5:31 pm
    • Hi friend and thanks for writing! March is a good period! anyway, did you already check the moon calendar? you can find the link in my article. It is used to see if there will be a full moon or not. With a dark moon, the aurora is more visible!

      Posted by Moyan Brenn | August 24, 2016, 2:48 pm
  14. Hi Moyan,

    Thank you for writing your articles and thank you for helping so many people find the lights 🙂 Hopefully we will be in luck!
    We booked a layover trip Oct. 5th- 9th. We arrive at the airport at 23:50 on the 5th and will pick up our rental car and drive to Reykjavik. Since the moon will only be getting fuller for each night we are there, will you recommend a few tips for our short stay. Where should we go the first night? What time is the best time to look for the lights and should we book a tour for better chances? Any advice would truely help. Thank you,

    Sunny

    Posted by Sunny | September 19, 2016, 10:44 pm
    • Hi Sunny!
      1) go where the weathercast looks good…check the weathercast section in my article for more tips
      2) tour doesn’t change situation that much…they just know better than you how to check for weathercast…however, by following my tips you can study weathercast on your own as well
      3) check sky from 9pm to 3pm without interruption….any single second could be the right one for the aurora to appear…just be patient as much as possible

      Posted by Moyan Brenn | September 20, 2016, 4:02 pm
      • Hi we’ve been touring Canada and Alaska and were very privileged to see the aurora twice, once about 100 k north of Haines Junction in Alaska USA at 4.30am on Sunday 11th sept and then in Fort St John BC, 12.25am about 3 days later .. Absolutely awesome 😍

        Michelle Davies

        >

        Posted by Michelle Davies | September 21, 2016, 4:49 am
      • Hi Michelle, good to hear! i’m happy you saw it!

        Posted by Moyan Brenn | September 21, 2016, 8:22 am
  15. Hi Moyan,
    This is such a comprehensive and enlightening article on the Northen Lights chase. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and knowledge with all.
    I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the Possibility of seeing the Northen Lights and am going to Iceland from the 1st of November to the 6th of November. We will be staying in Reykjavik and want to take conducted tours for the Northen lights chase. Can you suggest which would be the best tour to take ?
    Also, is it super cold ? Do we need multiple layers, boots etc to go out? We’re from Goa, India and don’t have a winter ever.
    30th October 2016 is a new moon night so I do hope we can see the Aurora. What are our chances?
    Seeing all your pictures and reading about your awesome experiences , I’m feeling very hopeful about seeing them. I did read though that after the winter of 2016 it will be difficult to see the Aurora because of the reduced Solar activity.
    I’m hoping to see the Aurora dance.
    Best,
    Vaishali Joshi

    Posted by Vaishali Joshi | September 24, 2016, 8:45 pm
  16. Hi Moyan,
    Thank you so much for sharing your invaluable tips and experience in the Northen Lights chase.
    We’re from Goa,India and are going to Iceland from the 1st to the 6th of November. It’s just following the new moon on the 30th of October.
    I was wondering if we should increase our stay by a couple of days?. After reading your blog i feel it’s better to stay for at least 8 days in Iceland.
    We’re planning to take a tour. Please suggest the best one. Maybe we’ll do a bus tour.
    I’ve been doing a lot of reading but your blog is just the BEST.
    Regards,
    Vaishali Joshi

    Posted by Vaishali Joshi | September 25, 2016, 6:27 am
    • Hi friend! yes, if possible increase days as much as you can, and be ready for a great cold, especially if you are not accustomed to winter seasons in general. Regarding tours i’m sorry but i’m not so much informed because i like to chase the aurora alone…thank you very much you are welcome!

      Posted by Moyan Brenn | September 25, 2016, 12:29 pm
  17. hiih i am going there in nov end to early dec.. will sony or gopro action camera do justice to the lights and what will i be looking for?

    Posted by blackmagix | October 27, 2016, 3:48 am
  18. Moyan, We are going in April of 2017 and your information is awesome and makes me even more excited to visit Iceland! Your suggestions and tips will help make this an incredible journey. Thanks for taking the time to do the post. The lights will be special, but there is so much more to see and I am looking forward to see it all.

    Posted by Pat Tezak | October 30, 2016, 11:42 pm
  19. Hi moyen,

    Thank you for sharing all this wonderful personal I information, my partner abs I are coming to Iceland 26-30th Jan 2017 is four nights enough as flights have already been booked.. also you suggest staying anywhere but NOT the south right?

    I was thinking selfoss, is this a good place?
    Regards rakhee

    Posted by Rakhee | November 4, 2016, 9:37 am
    • Hi Rakhee! four nights is not enough but why not, you could see it. Regarding the place to go, generally in the south since the mountains are close to coast it could be a little bit more cloudy, but the same is not true for example for the area of Klaustur still in the south..so in general, Selfoss yes is a nice choice, then from that place you can move in any direction depending by where the weathercast will suggest that there is a clear sky..it could be west, north, or who knows? good luck!

      Posted by Moyan Brenn | November 7, 2016, 11:38 am
  20. hi! Thank you for sharing this wonderful post 🙂 I am planning a trip to Iceland in March 2017, however I am unsure on whether to choose the dates of 8-14, 14-22 or 22-28 march, Are there statistics proofing that towards the end of the month is a better time? What would
    you suggest? Thanks!

    Posted by martina mizi | November 22, 2016, 11:40 am
  21. Hi, moyan thanks for your all sharing , i have plan to visit iceland but how we can get the destination after arrived in iceland ? I go alone not with travel agency.

    Posted by Rose | December 3, 2016, 9:57 pm
  22. Hi, moyan i have plan to visit iceland without any travel agency, how can i get to the destination of aurora view.

    Posted by Rose | December 3, 2016, 10:02 pm
    • Hi Rose, thanks for writing….if you read the article entirely, you will find that my guide is conceived to help people like you in finding the aurora without any travel agency….basically there’s no place to see the aurora…the best place is the one where during THAT night, the weather is good and sky is clear…chasing the aurora is not a question of where the aurora will appear, but more a question of where the sky tonight will be free of clouds….check the article again, i’m sure you will better understand this “idea”

      Posted by Moyan Brenn | December 6, 2016, 9:47 am
  23. Hi very good article.
    Just in regards to the suns 26 day cycle and recurring patterns, it is my understanding (although im no expert and could be wrong) that when there is a present coronal hole on the suns surface it can produce auruaral activity on several rotations unlike a standard CME. There is a site – noaa which gives a 27 day forecast based on this although i guess probably unreliable.

    Posted by peter | January 11, 2017, 7:24 am
  24. Hi Moyan, first of all thanks so much for sharing the information. Funnily enough I have just returned from a 3 day trip to Iceland and stumbled on this brilliant article after the trip. I managed to see the northern lights on the only clear night – I was so lucky! Using a Sony DSCHX50 the issue I had was the picture is a bit grainy. I think the could be due to the ISO. The shutter was 30seconds just like you’ve advised and I left the ISO on auto. is there a way for me to email the shot? You’ll probably recongise the issue right away and be able to advise.The moon was also really bright which meant we struggled to see the lights at first. Many thanks

    Posted by Alex | January 13, 2017, 4:26 pm
  25. Hi Moran
    What an incredible and informative article you have produced. Wish I had seen it before my daughter, son-in-law and I booked to go to Nellim, Lapland towards the end of last year. Part of the reason for the visit was to hopefully see the Aurora which unfortunately didn’t materialise as there was a full moon and too much cloud. But visitors just leaving saw it 3 days before we arrived! C’est la vie. Our time was well spent though husky dog sledging, langlaufing, snowmobiling & meeting some local reindeer. However, we haven’t given up on the Aurora and are hoping to plan a visit to Iceland in 2018 with the hope of seeing it but also to visit the other unique sights this country has to offer. Could you possibly give me some advice as to the best months you feel it would be best to travel to Iceland to possibly see the Aurora – if it hasn’t disappeared for its 11yr nap and given moon cycles etc. Our time to travel is fairly flexible but we would very much like to give ourselves every opportunity possible of seeing the Aurora on this trip. If you could offer us some advice I would be extremely grateful. Kind regards Sue

    Posted by Susan Pennell | February 18, 2017, 12:42 am
    • Apologies for the spelling error Moyan. Whilst typed correctly, predictive text preferred to call you Moran! (Lol)

      Posted by Susan Pennell | February 18, 2017, 12:51 am
    • Hi Susan thanks for writing….as you said the next years to come it could be a little bit less visible, but i bet that it will still appear…regarding the months, as i explain in the article my favourite ones are september and march. Both high chances to see it. In March a little bit longer night but some areas closed..in September, more things to see but a little bit shorter night and road conditions more affordable….for the moon phase you already know it, so make your choice and good luck! 🙂

      Posted by Moyan Brenn | February 20, 2017, 3:17 pm
  26. Hola Moyan!

    Thanks so much for all your expert comments and amazing photos/videos! You just motivate us all to run and take this fantastic aurora borealis search adventure, and of course to visit Iceland’s many incredible nature attractions too!
    We are planning to travel 5 days/4 nights on March’s 3rd week a bit based on decreasing moonlight forecast and equinox period…despite by now it’s clear that weather forecasts are not much reliable, we have preferred to choose March’s 3rd week instead of March’s 4th week (100% dark night – No moonlight) mainly because predicted weather forecast is 100% rainy and cloudy….so better prevent than regret!

    We will be taking a Northern lights (NL) “On the road” tour one night (if we don’t see the NL they will give us the second night’s tour for free)…… however we’ll have 2 more nights left….

    1) Would you recommend us to take a NL boat/cruise tour? Have you heard any comments? Any other special NL
    advice?
    2) Any advice to take Northern Lights photos with an iPhone?
    3) Nice restaurants or day/night activities in/close to Reykjavik? We’re taking most activities suggested by you ( Golden circle, Jokulsarlon lagoon & South coast, Blue lagoon) but still will have daytime free for 2 additional days….any special advice?

    We’ll trust your advice!

    Thanks so much (Muchas gracias!!!) !!!

    Claudia & Murray : )

    Posted by Claudia | February 20, 2017, 12:38 pm
    • Hi Claudia thanks for writing! Regarding the restaurant, use Tripadvisor. I believe it’s the real best way to discover new nice places depending by where you are exactly, especially because you can use the GPS position to filter out the restaurant results. It’s useless to suggest you a restaurant which could be at the opposite side of the city respect to where you are, while Tripadvisor could eventually suggest you something even better just to the next corner of your hotel. Regarding the activities, i have really inserted everything in the article you have read, so any further words here would be useless. Regarding the Iphone, the only chance is to see if it includes a long exposure mode. Consider that to get a nice aurora shot you would need to expose for at least 15/30 seconds, and use at least ISO 800 or greater ( i mean, to get a bright, good shot). It’s very difficult for a mobile camera to do this, anyway, just check your specifications, maybe you can do it with your iphone, who knows. And of course, a tripod is needed to do this. Regarding the boat tour for NL, never tried it, because i like to take pictures, and with a boat moving back and forth i’m afraid it could be even more difficult. Furthermore, the problem with the aurora is to find a “cloud hole” in the sky, and having the possibility to freely move on your own with your car increases the final chance (you check the real time cloud map, and then drive in turn). With a boat, i suspect that if you get clouds on top of your head, it’s over….. Cheers and good luck!

      Posted by Moyan Brenn | February 20, 2017, 3:29 pm
  27. Super Moyan!!! Thanks so much for your fast and detailed reply!….will go to Apple and check specifications…guess would only take a boat trip in case I’ve been lucky to see NL at the driving tour! Muchas gracias!!! Claudia : )

    Posted by Claudia | February 20, 2017, 3:38 pm

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My third trip to IcelandSeptember 3rd, 2015
Flying to Iceland today!!

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