Northern Lights Myth Busting - Aurora Borealis

Aurora Borealis Iceland Northern Lights Travel Tips

Posted: 5 mins read

Nobody understands the Northern Lights completely leaving room for interpretation and misbelief.

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If you read our other articles, you know by now that seeing and photo shooting the Northern Lights is not that easy. The effort that has to be put in to see the lights fuelled lots of myths among travelers. It’s time to bust them once and forever.

You can’t see the Northern Lights on a full moon

You might not be able to see a weak aurora when there’s a full moon, but you definitely can see a medium, not to mention strong, aurora. Yes, everybody prefers not to have a huge bright moon in the sky when chasing the lights. The moon will act like a powerful source of light that we already complained about in our other articles. However, the moon is not a deal breaker, it is probably just an excuse for lazy people that look for reasons why not to go out in the cold and chase the lights.

The Aurora is visibile only when taking a photo

This myth is the one that I hate the most. It’s a huge, and disgusting lie invented by Northern Lights Tours that are not being honest with their customers.

Sometimes the solar activity is just not high enough for the lights to appear, or, if they appear, they are very faded and look more like a white trace of cloud. If you use a camera or a phone and take a photo of that with long exposure then it will take a greenish color that you can’t see with the naked eye.

Unlucky tourists that go with tours on a day with low solar activity might hear from their guides that this is how the aurora looks in reality because they don’t want their customers to ask for a refund or reschedule of their tour because they haven’t seen anything. The truth is that the solar activity can’t be predicted, it is truly a matter of luck if you go on a northern lights tour.

If the solar activity is intense, the lights will become bright, colorful, and dance under the naked eye. Even more, the Northern Lights can be so bright that they will lit everything around you more than a full moon could.

Below are some photos taken by us at some faded auroras next to some colorful ones. The photos are straight from the phone with no edits.

As you can see there is a difference in the colors that you see in some photos compared to the others. The faded green ones are photos in which the aurora was barely visible for the naked eye. The bright green ones are photos taken when the aurora was impressive to the naked eye. Of course, the photos with the weak aurora can be edited in order to make the green, and brighter, but that is not the point.

The Lights are on the sky all night long

This is more than a myth, it is a belief that most people have before coming to see the Northern Lights with their own eyes. They expect the lights to always be on the sky moving around all night long. That’s far from the truth, and you can read more about what makes the Aurora appear in the sky here:

How To Chase The Northern Lights - Aurora Borealis
Witnessing the Northern Lights is not as simple as stargazing. Sometimes you have to go chase the lights, but do you know how?

It needs to be cold for the Lights to appear

Cold weather and the Northern Lights have nothing in common. A lot of things have to happen for you to see the lights, but cold is not one of them. The Northern Lights are only visible close to the Arctic and the Antarctic Circles, due to the Earth’s shape, angle, and magnetic field. These are also the places on our planet where the weather is the coldest, but that is a coincidence. The temperature outside has nothing to do with the lights. If you want to learn more about what makes the lights appear on the sky check out the article mentioned above: How To Chase The Northern Lights.

Having a clear sky is enough to see the Lights

As much as I would have loved for this to be true, it is not. Having clear sky is just one factor that has to happen for you to be able to see the Northern Lights. If clear sky would’ve been enough to see the lights, then that meant that the Aurora is always on the sky. We already busted this myth above.

You can’t see the Northern Lights from the city

This myth has some truth in it. Not all activity is visible from the city, but it is possible to see the Northern Lights from the city. Most of the time the Aurora is not very bright, and you need to be away from strong light sources in order to see it. However, on some rare ocasions, the lights get so bright that they will lit everything around more than a full moon would. That type of aurora would be visibile from a city.

In fact we’ve been lucky enough to witness such a strong aurora borealis in Iceland, in October 2022. We were in Mosfellsbær, between houses and public lighting, and the aurora was visibile on the sky. We hopped on a car and drove away from lights because we wanted to see it better. Minutes later, the lights turned even brighter and pink. If we were able to see the initial lights from Mosfellsbær, I am sure that the peak that evening was visible even from Reykjavik.


The Northern Lights' activity is surrounded by mistery, and this gives birth to many myths. I am sure that there are more myths out there that we haven’t heard of, but we would be happy to challenge ourselves and bust them. Share with us any idea regarding the Northern Lights that you suspect to be a misbelief to put it to the test.