How can you predict the aurora display? How is it possible to know when and where the Northern Lights will be visible?
Seeing the aurora borealis (Northern Lights) or the aurora australis (Southern Lights) is at the top of many people’s bucket lists.
But you don’t need to travel to the temperate regions to see or photograph the aurora. Armed with predictive data, you can be ready and wait when conditions are right.
In this article we’ll cover how to predict an aurora display, and the online resources you can use to help you do so.
What causes the aurora?
When charged particles from the Sun, the solar wind, collide with molecules in our atmosphere, they glow.
The Earth’s magnetic field moves particles down to cooler regions, which is why aurorae are often seen within the Arctic and Antarctic Circles.
Solar flares and associated coronal mass ejections (CMEs) can send extremely powerful solar winds toward Earth, causing geomagnetic storms.
On 1 September 1859, Richard Carrington and Richard Hodgson recorded the first observation of a solar flare.
Less than 18 hours later, the largest hurricane ever recorded, the Carrington Event, began.
Aurorae were visible all over the world, even in the equatorial regions. It was the first clear evidence that aurorae are directly linked to solar activity.
Find out more in our guide What causes the aurora
What causes the increase in the aurora
It is not only coronal mass ejections that make the aurora visible on Earth.
Disturbances in the Sun’s magnetic field can lead to ‘coral holes’ that allow the fast-moving solar wind to flow away from the Sun, which can lead to mid-latitude aurorae.
As we are now near the peak of activity in the Sun’s solar cycle, there have been many mid-latitude aurora displays this year.
How to predict the aurora
Space weather is now monitored regularly and scientists are getting better at predicting aurorae.
We have satellites that image the Sun at different wavelengths and record solar flares and CMEs.
Real-time magnetic data and geomagnetic storm forecasts are published on websites, social media accounts and applications.
All this information will help you predict if there is a chance of aurorae where you are.
However, the only thing you can accurately predict about aurora displays is their uncertainty!
Understanding aurora predictions
Some websites rate the level of activity using the Kp Index, which has a scale of 1 to 9. If the number is high, the southern (or northern) aurora can be seen.
Others publish interplanetary magnetic field data.
The total value (Bt) is measured in nanoteslas, but also important is its polarity (Bz).
If Bz is negative (the larger the negative value the better), it indicates more charged particles pouring into our magnetosphere, causing a stronger aurora in the coming hours.
To see the aurora, you need a clear view of the northern horizon (or southern horizon if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere) and let your eyes adjust to the darkness (about 20 minutes).
Visually, the aurora displays are not as colorful as they are in pictures, so expect the real thing to be seen.
If you’re in the middle latitudes, the most active aurorae bursts can be temporary, so be ready to act fast!
Aurora alert websites
Check these websites regularly to help you predict when and where an aurora display may occur.
The Solar Dynamics Observatory website allows you to study pictures of the Sun and monitor solar activity
Provides live updates of solar flares and CMEs, as well as geomagnetic storm forecasts and warnings
Dr. Tamitha Skov, aka Space Weather Woman, provides weekly space weather forecasts and videos that appear once major storms are predicted.
A great tool for checking auroral activity levels and 48-hour geomagnetic storm forecasts
This is where you can download Glendale, which claims to be the most accurate aurora forecast and warning app in the world.
6 ways to predict the aurora
Check solar data for coronal holes
Visit the Solar Dynamics Observatory website and view the daily image of 211 angstroms.
Any dark regions are coronal holes.
If these dark spots are in the equatorial region of the Sun, the fast solar wind will be directed towards the Earth and may cause geomagnetic storms a few days later.
Check out solar flares and coronal mass ejections
Check the Flare Aware website to see how many solar flares have occurred recently and if there are any Earth-directed CMEs associated with them.
Even CMEs that don’t go directly to Earth can feed us air and drive auroral activity.
Check space weather forecasts
Subscribe to Tamitha Skov’s YouTube channel and watch her space weather forecast videos.
He analyzes NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and NASA forecast models that track significant CMEs and provide geomagnetic storm probabilities in high- and mid-latitude regions.
Use the latest spaceweather.com information
Spaceweather.com summarizes recent solar flares, coronal holes, current solar wind speed, Kp (geomagnetic activity), Bt (interplanetary magnetic field) and Bz (polarity) levels. , the current position of the auroral oval and the probability of geomagnetic storms from the top and center. range in the next 48 hours.
Sign up online for aurora alerts in your area
Sign up, enter your location and the Glendale Aurora Alerts App will provide geomagnetic measurements specific to your location rather than global readings.
It provides live, real-time alerts, and other app users add green markers on the map when they have aurorae, so you can see at a glance if you’re in a position yourself.
Check out the aurora webcam stream
There are many aurora webcams around the world, including in Norway, Canada, Finland and the Shetlands in the UK.
Reading the view from live cameras in your country allows you to monitor how the aurora display works in real time and can help you predict if the aurora will reach your location.
Have you had an amazing aurora experience, or managed to capture it? Contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org