The adventure of the northern lights really starts deep inside the core of the sun where nuclear reaction generates energy and magnetic fields inside the sun. These magnetic fields then sometime move to the surface of the sun and create sun spots. Every once in a while these sun spots let out incredible amounts of energy in so called solar flares where billions of tons of electromagnetic gas, called plasma, are hurled into space and travel at very high speed through space, called solar storms. When they reach Earth most of the storm is deflected by our magnetic field, but some of it always enters our atmosphere and creates the northern lights.
These flares vary in size and energy, but the biggest one that is known to man is actually the first one that was observed. On September 1, 1859, a solar flare occurred that was even visible to the naked eye. The solar storm that followed produced aurora that reached all the way “down” to the equator. It was even recorded by the ice cap of Greenland, where it left traces of nitrate, i.e.
Astronomers and scientists have been observing sun spots for a very long time. As early as 300 B.C. both Chinese and ancients Greeks were observing and registering sun spots. These observations were occasional and often linked to major events in history, i.e. the death of Charlemagne in 813 A.D.
With improvements in telescope technology in the 17th and 18th century observations became more frequent in Europe. Well known astronomers like Galileo, Hariott and Fabricius made important discoveries about the sun spots, and little by little scientists noticed that this sun spot activity comes in cycles, where it reaches a high point every 11 years. Therefore, we now know that when this cycle is at it’s high point, we can expect more frequent northern lights in our sky.
So, the sun, the source of all our energy, is also the source of the energy that becomes visible when the aurora gracefully lights the skies over Iceland.