Opportunities to observe Aurorae or The Northern Lights in the UK, particularly towards the north of the country, do arise from time to time and of late have been quite frequent but commonly, clouds mask the displays. Keen observers can travel north to Scandinavia or Iceland to increase the chance of observing the display.
And so my family and I ventured north to Iceland on the 7th of March. But I made an important mistake before we even left – I didn’t think to check the phases of the moon when choosing the date of the trip. In the event, we ended up being out in the lava field with a bright full moon to the south! At least it was 7 degrees lower in the sky due to the higher latitude.
It would have been nice to have had summer temperatures while we were there but of course, due to the ever-present sun in summer, autumn/winter/spring is when it is dark enough to see the aurora.
There are many guided tours available and we booked the Northern Lights Super Jeep Tour. At the start of the evening, the jeep goes around the Reykjavic tourist bus stops and hotels picking up booked passengers from 9-30pm onwards and then heads out of town. The jeep is quite “super” as can be seen in the image here.
After about 30 minutes travelling down the dual carriageway towards the airport, the jeep turned off and headed southeast along a dirt track across the lava fields, after slightly deflating the tires. The track was up down, left right and twisty, eventually stopping at a suitable spot where we all alighted from the truck.
We could immediately see a green shape in the sky which almost seemed to be alive. I quickly set up the tripod and camera to start imaging the “beast”. The moon was making the sky quite bright and I had to use relatively short exposure times, typically 10 to 15 seconds which I experimented with. Operating the camera was difficult with the air temperature at approximately -15 Centigrade. Finger freeze sets in quickly when taking gloves off to adjust settings.
Over a period of about an hour it moved snake-like from northeast of our position towards the northern horizon and eventually faded from view. Being this far north, the display passed above us, rather than being a near-horizon event. The disadvantage is that the camera had to be moved to keep the display in view, so creating a slide show isn’t quite as smooth as when the camera is stationary on its tripod.
During the hour, the driver passed around hot chocolate and some Icelandic alcohol. The hot chocolate was appreciated but somehow I missed out on the alcohol – too busy taking images.
We arrived back in Reykjavik at about 1am. Apparently we were lucky to have seen it so soon after arriving at the viewing spot and sometimes nothing is seen. In that event, you can book another outing for free, if you are still in Iceland and for that reason, we booked our tour for the beginning of our time there.
So, a successful outing and another tick box ticked! I compiled the images into a 30 second video. It’s not perfect at all but I was battling freezing temperatures!
Ian A Smith