Iceland: Fire, Ice and the Aurora
For a total escape from urban life, it’s hard find a more immediate and dramatic contrast than the pristine northern expanses of Iceland.
At the same time, Iceland itself is a place of remarkable contrasts, living up to its name with magnificent glaciers and ice fields, yet equally famed for its steaming geysers, hot springs and active volcanoes – not to mention green valleys dotted with horses and sheep. And then there’s the even more fundamental contrast between a profound, otherworldly sense of remoteness and the fact that this small island nation at the edge of the Arctic Sea is so conveniently accessible to travelers.
- March 23-30, 2014
- Get the chance to experience the beauty of the aurora borealis
- NO NIGHTTIME BUS TRIPS – five nights of relaxed aurora viewing just a short walk from your countryside hotel room
- Explore some of Iceland’s most outstanding areas of natural beauty
We’ve woven together all of these fascinating contradictions to create TravelQuest’s Spring 2014 journey across landscapes of fire and ice to view the aurora borealis. Where better than in a land of paradoxes to experience the unreal spectacle of shimmering, multi-hued northern lights flaring across the blackness of arctic skies?
Beauty, Day and Night
The key to our Iceland adventure lies in its balance of wonders: the incredible beauty of the natural environment by day, and the unforgettable light show (conditions permitting) of the aurora by night. Because it’s such a small country, we’re able to cover an extraordinary diversity of landscapes from our home bases in the Western Peninsula, on the southern coast and in the capital, Reykjavík. But precisely because Iceland is so compact, we can keep our days of exploring comparatively short – eight hours at the most – so you’ll have plenty of time for viewing and photographing the amazing celestial lights from the dark grounds of country hotels.
A Unique Opportunity
The aurora’s eerie, constantly changing light effects are created when charged particles from the Sun slam into the Earth’s upper atmosphere, literally electrifying it. Because of our planet’s geomagnetic field, the phenomenon occurs within a pair of ovals around the north and south magnetic poles. Therefore Iceland, which typically lies within the shifting northern auroral oval, is blessed with frequent and spectacular displays.
The northern lights can take many forms: undulating curtains, pulsing rays or dramatic overhead coronas. As for colors, they range from subtle to vibrant – predominantly in hues of green, but with occasional splashes of blue, red and purple. When solar activity reaches its maximum in 2013/14, the aurora should be correspondingly visible. However, some scientists believe that the Sun is no longer behaving in ways that we’ve come to perceive as normal, with the result that the peak of the current solar cycle will be relatively low. For the best chance to experience the haunting beauty of the aurora, you really have to travel to where the lights nearly always dance – in the vast, clear night skies above Iceland. Learn more about the aurora.
A FEW WORDS ABOUT THE AURORA BOREALIS
By astronomer Paul Deans
The aurora’s eerie, constantly changing light show is created by charged particles from the Sun that have been trapped in Earth’s magnetic field. When the field is overloaded because of heightened solar activity, these particles race down the magnetic field lines into our planet’s upper atmosphere and smash into atoms of gas, releasing photons of light. This activity occurs within the auroral zone, a pair of ovals roughly centered on Earth’s north and south magnetic poles. Iceland, which typically lies under the northern auroral oval, is therefore blessed with frequent and spectacular displays.
The northern lights can take many forms: undulating curtains, pulsing rays or dramatic overhead coronas. As for colors, they range from subtle to vibrant – predominantly hues of green, but with occasional splashes of blue, red and purple.
As solar activity reaches its maximum level in 2013/14, the aurora will certainly be active as well. Historically, solar activity declines from its peak more slowly than it rises, which means that the aurora should remain strong throughout 2015.
If you think it’s difficult predicting the weather a few days in advance, consider attempting to forecast the appearance of the northern lights as far ahead as March 2014! That’s a tough assignment, and it’s impossible to be completely accurate, but we can make some generalized comments about what you should expect to see.
An active Sun means we’re more likely to experience a coronal mass ejection (CME), a major solar outburst that often results in stunning northern lights shows. What’s more, we can also see aurora activity thanks to coronal holes – openings in the Sun’s magnetic field that let its powerful solar wind escape into space. When one of these holes is pointed toward Earth, the result is a lovely show of the northern lights at high-latitude locations such as Iceland.
Unfortunately, astronomers can’t predict the eruption of a CME or the emergence of coronal holes. But when one or the other is observed, it’s possible to estimate when the charged solar particles will strike Earth’s atmosphere and cause the aurora to dance. So as well as checking the sky each night, we’ll be monitoring solar activity websites every day.
One more thing. For reasons not yet clear to astronomers, aurora activity peaks following the spring and autumn equinoxes. This is why we plan to be in the dark skies of the Icelandic countryside shortly after the 2014 spring equinox.
Our Iceland adventure is limited to 26 guests, so call TravelQuest today to reserve your spot under the haunting aurora borealis.