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Auroras in Kirkjufell

Justin Kauffman


Behind the Shot

Sixty to 90 miles above the earth’s surface, solar winds hit the magnetosphere and, through a process that scientists still don’t completely understand, create a reaction we call an aurora. Visible in skies close to the north and south poles in an area called the auroral zone, auroras have been the object of superstition and mythology since humans recorded history.

China has perhaps the oldest records of the aurora borealis, dating back to 2000 B.C. The Chinese culture creation myth describes a “magical band of light” appearing like “moving clouds and flowing water.” A young woman named Fubao was so inspired by the sight that she became pregnant and gave birth to the Emperor Xuanyuan, the initiator of Chinese culture and ancestor to all Chinese people.

Justin visited Iceland in midwinter and was also influenced, although to a lesser degree, by the aurora borealis. Vacationing near Kirkjufell, the 1,500-foot-tall mountain on the north coast of Iceland’s Snaefellsnes Peninsula near the town of Grundarfjordur, Justin and his companions had settled in for the night.

“We’d driven all day and were staying at a guest house. We heard some commotion from the other people there. We got up and got dressed and went out to see what was going on. The northern lights were going off. It was the most mind-boggling thing I’d ever seen. They were so bright I was able to film them with my iPhone. They lasted 15 to 20 minutes or so, so we scurried around taking as many photos as we could. Then they dissipatedand then they were gone.”