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Stunning aurora glow above Iceland after 'dead' sunspot erupts

Todd Salat captured auroras over Goðafoss waterfall in northern Iceland on April 14, 2022.
Todd Salat captured auroras over Goðafoss waterfall in northern Iceland on April 14, 2022. (Image credit: Todd Salat/AuroraHunter.com)

A sunspot that "awoke from the dead" last week and erupted with a medium-size solar flare, along with a mass ejection of plasma, also lit up the northern skies in glowing lights. One stunning image of the effect showed the aurora seeming to rain through the clouds above Iceland.

Rays from this aurora shone near Goðafoss Waterfall, which is about about 45 minutes from Akureyri, the second-largest city in Iceland. 

"The nighttime window of darkness is rapidly shrinking here at 65.7 degrees north latitude, just 60 miles south of the Arctic Circle, which makes the aurora spectacle that much more precious," photographer Todd Salat, of AuroraHunter.com (opens in new tab), told SpaceWeather.com (opens in new tab)

"Soon, summer sunlight will make it too hard to see the lights until autumn," Salat continued. A near-full moon was also competing for light space here, but these Icelandic auroras would not be denied."

The shining northern lights were generated by a moderate-sized solar storm, associated with an explosion of solar particles witnessed by satellites. The sunspot that exploded was poetically dubbed "dead" because it had recently erupted and become part of a quiet solar patch. Even so, as those solar particles interacted with Earth's magnetic field lines, air molecules high up in the atmosphere were excited, producing the incredible sky show.

Related: NASA set to launch 2 rockets into the northern lights 

Todd Salat captured auroras over Goðafoss waterfall in northern Iceland on April 14, 2022. (Image credit: Todd Salat/AuroraHunter.com)
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On Facebook (opens in new tab), Salat told viewers that this was the first time he had seen auroras of this magnitude during a planned two-week trip to Iceland, from his hometown of Anchorage, Alaska. It was Salat's ninth night in Iceland, and he had only seen glimpses of the northern lights before this. Then the weather forecast turned.

"I broke camp earlier in the day in light rain, and the weather forecast was for clouds and scattered showers for all of Iceland for the entire week. I had told myself not to take that forecast to heart because it can [be] so demoralizing," Salat said.

While he was tempted to "put the aurora cameras away," during a drive he stumbled upon the waterfall. He was taking some test shots when he spotted a glow between the clouds. 

"I picked up my pace, and when I saw a spike develop, I broke into an all-out sprint until my lungs burned to get into position for this composition. Boom, at 11:47 pm, perhaps the best aurora shot of the trip up to that point went into the game bag, and I was ecstatic."

Salat witnessed the clouds temporarily seal the view, but around 2 a.m. local time, they opened up again briefly, allowing him to take a few more shots.

"I've been on a lot of aurora hunts in life, but I don’t know if I’ve ever 'worked' so hard to get the shots as I have for these," he continued on Facebook. "I'm 3,336 miles [5,369 km] from my home in Anchorage, Alaska and living in a campervan. I'm glad it's not forever, but I’m loving it and cheers for living in the now. Time to hit the road and see what’s around the next bend."

Article originally published on LiveScience.

Elizabeth Howell
Live Science Contributor
Elizabeth Howell is a regular contributor to Live Science and Space.com, along with several other science publications. She is one of a handful of Canadian reporters who specializes in space reporting. Elizabeth has a Bachelor of Journalism, Science Concentration at Carleton University (Canada) and an M.Sc. Space Studies (distance) at the University of North Dakota. Elizabeth became a full-time freelancer after earning her M.Sc. in 2012. She reported on three space shuttle launches in person and once spent two weeks in an isolated Utah facility pretending to be a Martian.