Ask An Astrophysicist: Will The Aurora Fade In 2019? - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Ask An Astrophysicist: Will The Aurora Fade In 2019?

Ask An Astrophysicist: Will The Aurora Fade In 2019?

Published November 8, 2017

Charley Ward
Main photo by
Art Bicnick

Everyone who comes to Iceland wants to see the Northern Lights. During a powerful display, you can see huge bursts of strong green, purple and red lights weave their way across the night sky. But if you’ve booked your trip in 2019, you might have heard that you won’t catch one of the more impressive light shows. Gunnlaugur Björnsson, an astrophysicist who studies the aurora, explains what it is and why this prediction might not be true.

“The aurora are caused by charged particles moving from the sun, blasting the earth, exciting atoms in the upper atmosphere and making them shine. A sunspot is a dark region that appears on the solar surface. The number of sunspots correlates with the number of charged particles the Earth receives from the sun, so there is a correlation between aurora activity and the sun measured in sunspots.

“Every 11 years there’s a maximum number of sunspots on the surface of the sun. The sunspots are expected to be at minimum in 2019 or 2020 or so. But, for some reason, aurora minimums have been observed to lag two years behind the solar activity. So, 2021 or 2022 would be my prediction for a low in aurora activity. Regardless, tourists shouldn’t worry about this when booking their next trip to Iceland; there are always some lights, but they just might not be those spectacular fireworks that you expect to see. You tend to get the strongest ones during the period two to three years after solar maximum.”

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