'Absolutely bonkers' aurora lights up the sky above Iceland (video)

green auroras over a harbor and a boat monument
The northern lights are frequent in Iceland, like this 2017 show over Northern Lights over Eyjafjoerdur near Dalvik. (Image credit: Martin Zwick/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

An Icelandic room reservation paid off big for a student "aurora chaser."

Vincent Ledvina traveled halfway across the world from Alaska to Iceland and spotted surges of green auroras the night of Jan. 13, right over his cabin, cataloging a terabyte's worth of "absolutely bonkers" northern lights footage about two hours from Reykjavík.

"This particular [...] location was legendary and led to some of my favorite aurora compositions ever," said Ledvina in a tweet; he is no stranger to the shimmering green lights given that he is usually based in Fairbanks, Alaska.

"This was the perfect finale to our Iceland trip, and my friends who had never seen the aurora were treated to a solid show. Now they understand why I'm obsessed," Ledvina added on Twitter.

Related: Where to see the northern lights: 2023 aurora borealis guide

Auroras, also known in the northern hemisphere as the northern lights, or the aurora borealis, are patterns of light in the sky that occur due to activity from our sun. Energetic particles from the star careen into Earth's upper atmosphere and are redirected towards the poles by the magnetic field of our planet.

The sun is climbing towards a peak of its 11-year-cycle of activity, and had been firing off powerful X-flares in the days before the Icelandic storm. It also sends out a stream of particles through the solar system known as the solar wind. The colors arising in auroras on Earth come as the particles energize gas molecules high in our atmosphere. Other planets and moons have auroras as well.

Related: Do extraterrestrial auroras occur on other planets?

Auroras are a harmless manifestation of solar activity, but at times powerful flares can cause brief radio blackouts or disrupt satellites. On very rare occasions a few times every 1,000 years, especially powerful blasts from the sun can be quite disruptive, such as the infamous Carrington Event of September 1859 that caused damage to the telegraph infrastructure of the era.

As such, NASA and its space partners keep a constant watch on the sun's activity through a network of satellites to make predictions as accurate as possible. Spacecraft such as the European Space Agency's Solar Orbiter and NASA's Parker Solar Probe also make periodic close-up sweeps of the sun to capture detailed information, and are protected by special shielding to withstand the intense radiation from our solar neighbor.

Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of "Why Am I Taller?" (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: community@space.com.

Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace