The Aurora is a natural phenomenon caused by electrically charged particles, mainly electrons and protons ejected from the sun colliding with atoms of oxygen and nitrogen causing them to emit light that is visible to us. These hypnotic lights are known as Aurora Borealis, Polar Lights or Northern Lights in the arctic north and Aurora Australis (southern lights) around the south pole. The color of the Aurora has to do with the type of gas that these particles collide with, oxygen produces green light at low altitudes and red at high altitudes. Nitrogen produces purple Aurora. The green color is the most common and red can only be seen at the strongest of geomagnetic storms. The full understanding of the physical processes that cause the aurora are still a mystery but we know the fundamental causes of the Aurora is the interaction of solar wind with the Earth‘s magnetosphere.
There are three basic requirements for seeing the northern lights. Solar activity, darkness and clear skies. This means that you cannot see the northern lights during summer, they are still happening, there’s even a phenomenon called daylight aurora, but our eyes cannot detect them as sunlight drowns out the Aurora. So the darker the better. Going out of the city is not a requirement, the Aurora can often be spotted within city limits in Iceland, however to best enjoy them going away from city lights enhances the experience. Also people should not use mobile phones if they are looking for the northern lights, as the light from the screen will make it harder for your eyes to adjust to the darkness. It‘s always a good idea to take warm clothes on your Aurora excursions as Iceland can get very cold in the winter, that means wool undergarments, warm mid layer and a windproof shell.