Northern Lights… from a plane!?

My recent trip to Iceland to see the northern lights did not go as planned in many more ways than one. One of those failures was not being able to see the northern lights because of crazy overcast clouds. However, on my way flying into Iceland, I was able to capture the northern lights from our plane and thus at least partially fulfilled my wish of seeing the northern lights! Here’s how I did it.

Iceland Air Map

I first noticed the flight path as we were on the ground getting ready to take off. I knew that we would be in the “zone” for seeing the northern lights and that we would be above the clouds so that if the northern lights were actually showing I would be in good shape to see them. When I checked the kp Index I saw that they were predicting a “3” which is a relatively strong indicator that the lights would be out. With that information, I decided that I would stay up all night on the flight.

About three hours into the flight, everyone on the plane just about was asleep. That’s when I started to focus intensely outside my plane window. After squinting pretty hard for hours, I noticed that there was something outside the window in the distance. It resembled a cloud but seemed to have a different texture and also extended far beyond where I remembered the clouds being. It was difficult to see because of the light pollution coming from the cabin and the light on the wing. I then grabbed a blanket and a jacket and essentially suction-cupped myself to the window, blocking out all stray light. That’s when I was sure I was looking at the northern lights!

I got pretty excited and knew I had to grab my camera. I positioned it on top of my camera bag in an attempt to make myself a make-shift tripod. I then turned up the ISO and put the shutter speed on about 10 seconds. After a couple of trial and error shots, I got the below shot.

NLs 2

Amazingly, the picture turned out much better than I had imagined. You can see the sky full of stars and can barely see the clouds near the bottom. The color of the lights were not that green in real-life but the camera sensor certainly did its job in picking up the light. I took about 20 or 30 shots of this until the light began to fade as dusk approached. It really was a somewhat magical experience and what was interesting was that everyone on the plane seemed to be asleep and missing out on this awesome sight. I wondered to myself how many other passengers would have gladly stayed up to see the sights and how many other people may have seen the same thing on this flight or another flight. Overall, I still hope to see the northern lights one day from the ground but for now I will treasure this experience — truly unforgettable.

4 comments

    1. Thank you very much! Keep your eyes glued outside the window for them – this should be a great time of year to view them!

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