Northern Lights

19 January 2014 photography iceland videography erasmus

"The prospects are at 6! The prospects are at 6!! Have you seen what's happening outside? It's green! Everything! I'm heading out in 5. Are you with me?"

I'm quite impressed of those of my friends that decided spontaneously leave the things they were doing after receiving such an abrupt phonecall without any other notice, then quickly put on a jacket and an extra pair of socks, grab a snack and to join me to drive into the night in an attempt to capture the Aurora. Different ways were used: some tried filming; other took handheld pictures; others pictures on a tripod; and still others on a dolly; some wrote short stories and poems; some stood and leaned their head gaping just a little bit too much, straining their neck; others lay down on the ground on the cold winter snow, laying absolutely still to see if they could hear them; others tried running around and dancing, either dancing with their rhythm or plainly just to keep warm. Some of my friends were irritated, hung up and went right back to sleep. I tended to call back the former.

In particular I remember the expressions of my friends who were seeing them for the first time. Becoming active in the Erasmus community back home was a logical extension of my own exchange program, and I made many international friends, all of which absolutely adored the place - and probably even more than us Icelanders! - haha!). They came to Iceland to study (some I think were more inclined on the parties, and having a swell time; but that is another story), also hoping to see the Northern Lights - at least once; "Solamente una vez!" - that would be enough for me, one of my friend said. And all of them did! - those that took the time to look for them at least!

I sometimes think if capturing the expressions they showed when seeing them for their first time, along with the plethora of foreign words and slang they used to describe them as they saw them (I believe I still remember some of the Italian ones!), might have been a worthier material to capture than the lights themselves. The Aurora will come again, but those first time expressions only happen once.

The northern lights do not wait for anybody. Although various websites that try to predict their visibility they are not always that accurate as viewing conditions depend on many dynamic factors; cloud cover, seeing, time of day, and solar activity, capriciousnes of Icelandic weather, etc.

Still, as 2013 was at the peak of the sun-spot cycle, the trips added up, and over the course of last year I ended up accumulating quite a few timelapse scenes - some of which made use of a homemade wooden Arduino+car-battery-dolly - sometimes referred to as the "Icebox", or "Bomb Slider". I decided to make a video-project out of it. Below you can see the result:

Northern Lights Time lapses Iceland 2013 from Guðmundur Kári on Vimeo.

Contact Info

Guðmundur Kári Stefánsson
NASA Earth and Space Science Fellow
Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics
The Pennsylvania State University
421 Davey Lab
University Park, PA, 16802

Email: gudmundur [at]
Twitter: @gummiks

Recent posts

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- HPF MLI blanket fabrication

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