Months of the Northern Lights
Northern lights are a natural phenomenon produced by solar winds, which blow electronic particles into molecules of atmospheric gases, causing bright light emission. While solar activity occurs year-round, there must be dark skies to view auroras, which means the winter months are the time to search for northern lights in Iceland.
When is the Best Time of Year to see the Northern Lights?
One of Iceland’s most popular winter attractions is searching for the otherworldly northern lights (Aurora Borealis). The best time to see northern lights is from late August to early April, and there are forecasts predicting visibility on the Icelandic Met Office (www.vedur.is). While not common, it’s possible to see northern lights in late August if the conditions are right.
Weather Conditions: January is one of the coldest months in Iceland, with temperatures often below freezing. Snow and ice are common, which can make travelling challenging. However, the clear, cold nights can provide excellent conditions for Northern Lights viewing.
Expected Intensity: High. The long nights and frequent clear skies make January a prime month for aurora activity.
Best Locations: The Westfjords, away from city lights, and the northern parts of Iceland, such as Akureyri.
Weather Conditions: February is still very cold, with similar conditions to January. Snowstorms can occasionally obstruct viewing.
Expected Intensity: High. The extended darkness continues to favour aurora sightings.
Best Locations: The Snaefellsnes Peninsula and areas around Lake Myvatn.
Weather Conditions: As Iceland moves from winter to spring, the days start to get longer. However, there are still long nights, providing ample opportunities for Northern Lights viewing.
Expected Intensity: High. Though the nights are shortening, they remain dark enough for frequent sightings.
Best Locations: The Golden Circle area, especially Thingvellir National Park, offers great viewing spots.
Weather Conditions: April sees gradual warming, though snow can still be present. Cloud cover can be variable, affecting visibility.
Expected Intensity: Moderate. The increasing daylight reduces the window for viewing, but sightings are still possible.
Best Locations: The Eastfjords and the southern coast, including Vik.
Weather Conditions: The Midnight Sun begins its ascent, leading to almost continuous daylight in the latter half of the month. This makes viewing the Northern Lights challenging.
Expected Intensity: Low. The extended daylight significantly reduces opportunities.
Best Locations: Northernmost parts of Iceland might offer brief glimpses, but sightings are rare.
Weather Conditions: June experiences the peak of the Midnight Sun, making it the most challenging month for aurora viewing.
Expected Intensity: Very low. Sightings are extremely rare.
Best Locations: Realistically, Northern Lights are almost impossible to see in June.
Weather Conditions: July continues to experience extended daylight, though not as intensely as June.
Expected Intensity: Very low. Sightings remain a rarity.
Best Locations: Northernmost regions during the brief moments of twilight, though chances remain slim.
Weather Conditions: By late August, nights start to darken again, gradually increasing the chances of aurora sightings.
Expected Intensity: Moderate by the end of the month.
Best Locations: The Westfjords and the central highlands.
Weather Conditions: September sees cooler temperatures and increased rainfall. Cloud cover can be a challenge, but clear nights offer good viewing conditions.
Expected Intensity: High. The darkening nights and equinox solar activity can lead to vibrant displays.
Best Locations: The Reykjanes Peninsula and areas around Reykjavik when skies are clear.
Weather Conditions: As days shorten rapidly, the window for Northern Lights viewing expands. Cold, clear nights can offer spectacular displays.
Expected Intensity: High. The increasing darkness and potential solar storms make for frequent and intense sightings.
Best Locations: The southern coast and the Eastfjords.
Weather Conditions: November is cold and sees the onset of the winter snow. While snowstorms can obstruct viewing, they also create picturesque landscapes when the auroras appear.
Expected Intensity: High. The long, dark nights are prime for viewing.
Best Locations: The Golden Circle and the northern regions, such as Husavik.
Weather Conditions: December offers the longest nights of the year, maximizing the chances of seeing the Northern Lights.
Expected Intensity: Very high. Combined with potential solar activity, December can offer some of the most vibrant displays.
Best Locations: Almost anywhere away from city lights, with the Westfjords and the Snaefellsnes Peninsula being particularly good spots.
Best Time of Day to See the Northern Lights
It needs to be dark to see the northern lights; that’s why they can’t be seen during the summer. The sunrise and sunset times in Reykjavík are below; searching for the northern lights should happen after sunset.
Searching for the northern lights should happen after sunset. The sunrise and sunset times in Reykjavík are below:
- January 1: 11:19 am - 3:45 pm
- February 5: 9:55 am – 5:30 pm
- March 5: 8:21 am- 6:59 pm
- April 1: 6:42 am – 8:23 pm
- May 5: 4:39 am – 10:12 pm
- June 5: 3:15 am – 11:39 pm
- June 21: 2:54 am - 12:05 am
- July 1: 3:07 am – 11:55 pm
- August 5: 4:50 am – 10:14 pm
- September 5: 6:16 am – 8:36 pm
- October 1: 7:37 am – 6:57 pm
- November 5: 9:24 am – 4:58 pm
- December 3: 10:51 am – 3:44 pm
- December 21: 11:22 am – 3:30 pm
The strongest auroras tend to appear between 9 pm and 2 am, though the best sightings often occur between 11 pm and midnight. Between 4 am and 5 pm, there is typically too much daylight to see the aurora – exceptions are the darkest months of the year and higher latitudes such as Svalbard, where it is dark 24/7 from mid-November to the end of January.
Where Can I Learn About Northern Lights All Year Round?
Perlan’s Northern Lights Show, Áróra, is a breathtaking film about northern lights. The film includes many stories, combining science and art to create a unique guest experience. At Perlan, you can learn how northern lights form, hear fascinating tales about them and see fantastic displays. In Icelandic nature and outer space, the northern lights virtually dance around you.
Perlan is home to Iceland’s only planetarium and uses a state-of-the-art 8K projection system and surround sound system to bring you the full spectrum of the magical story of the northern lights.
Why is aurora activity stronger close to the equinoxes?
Due to the earth’s axis, as the planet rotates around the sun, the angle of the earth’s magnetic fields changes. During the optimum time, which occurs during the equinoxes, magnetic fissures open up that allow solar particles out, setting off an auroral storm cycle, which creates a higher probability of northern light sightings.
How can I increase my chances of seeing northern lights in Iceland?
For a good chance to see northern lights in Iceland, travel during the winter, stay for several nights in Iceland, monitor aurora forecasts, join tours, and most importantly, be patient. Sometimes, you may need to wait for the auroras to appear.
What are the best months to see Northern Lights in Iceland
The northern lights are potentially visible under dark skies from late August to early April under a cloudless sky. While they occur year-round, they are weaker than sunlight and therefore, sightings aren’t possible from May to July and most of August.
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