Iceland: Northern Lights

During my time in Iceland I was lucky enough to witness one of the Seven Wonders of the World three times; the Northern lights. Also known as ‘Aurora borealis’ in the north and ‘Aurora australis’ in the south the lights are seen above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres and appear in various colours which differ depending on the gases in the atmosphere, green is the most common auroral colour which is produced by oxygen molecules located about 60 miles above the earth whereas red is formed by high-altitude oxygen, at heights of up to 200 miles with Nitrogen fabricating blue or purple aurora. The northern lights are the collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere, as temperatures above the surface of the sun is millions of degrees collisions between gas molecules are frequent and explosive whilst free particles are thrown from the sun’s atmosphere by the rotation of the sun and escape through holes in the magnetic field, these are then blown by solar wind towards earth but deflected by the earths magnetic field. The auroras are found at either pole as the magnetic fields are weaker here and allow some particles to enter, colliding with gas particles.  The lights also flow and form various shapes due to the collisions between the atoms and particles are constantly shifting along the magnetic currents.

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The auroras are monitored through the strength of the solar wind as if that’s high the activity will be too because more charged particles enter the atmosphere, whilst the higher the activity the wider it will spread across the earths surface. There is no specific time or place to see the auroras but winter is usually better as there is longer periods of darkness whilst avoid areas with light pollution, which was an issue I faced with my first encounter. Pulling up aside a row of mountains just outside Reykjavik the sky was contaminated by its city lights and that of the full moon but above the mountains we could see a faint fast moving cloud, which eventually turned green before moving across the mountains then above us. This experience as it was my first was mainly witnessed with the naked eye whilst the second experience I focused on my photography. Pulling up in the barren landscape on the north side of the island there was minimal light pollution aside from occasional cars driving past which I used to my advantage with long exposures whilst the sky was so clear with a vast abundance of stars the aurora arrived within an hour after our arrival and in a faint white form but was captured in vivid colours within the camera.

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I wanted to try and create images a little different from my peers as we were all shooting the same subject in similar styles at the same time so experimenting with a fish eye lens created distorted angles and making the most of the light from the passing cars. It really was an amazing opportunity to see such a wonder but due to the faint sightings I personally was not as amazed by the aurora as I expected, the images and colours on my camera are much more dramatic and outstanding than reality as it looked like a faint green glow or cloud but I can not wait to try and see these again around the world and hopefully get the chance to see stronger lights.

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