All posts by Charles Baldridge

Charles Baldridge a data scientist with a passion for studying space weather and chasing the northern lights. He has been lucky enough to see aurora in person on multiple occasions in his hometown of Burlington Vermont.

Mid July Aurora Storm 2017 – NLN Live Blog

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Northern Lights Now – NLN will be live blogging the predicted solar storm this weekend. As of Saturday afternoon at the start of the live blog, SWPC is predicting G2 storming to start midday on July 16 UTC and last at least through July 17. NLN will be posting about this storm as it unfolds.

Thanks for hunting with NLN

BONUS – NLN Live Blog Update – Tuesday July 18, 03:20 UTC (23:20 EST 7/17)
Live blog time: BONUS ROUND

The bonus substorm is over. Time for weary aurora hunters to get some sleep.

BONUS – NLN Live Blog Update – Tuesday July 18, 02:20 UTC (22:20 EST 7/17)
Live blog time: BONUS ROUND

Space weather is still hard to predict. Solar wind data is indicating that there may be another substorm on it’s way in. Watch the Bz on the Solar Wind Page. If it stays negative, it may be worth going out in about 40min to and hour.

Bz and Wind Speed indicate the potential for a bonus sub-storm
Bz and Wind Speed indicate the potential for a bonus sub-storm

NLN Live Blog Update – Monday July 17, 17:15 UTC (12:30 EST 7/17)
Live blog time: 43h 00m

What a terrific storm. Lots of people got to see aurora in person but the big winners seemed to be in the Pacific Northwest, central and western Canada and New Zealand. The timing of the storm wasn’t great for Europe and the Northeast (except for the few diehards who persevered despite the Moon at 3am!). Overall, the storm was pretty close to the predictions – it arrived a little early but well within the standard margin of error. The predicted intensity was also close, although a little aggresive, with predictions calling for 4 periods of G2 (there were 2) and 4 periods of G1 (there were 3).

Bz has shifted North and wind speeds and density have already started declining. There’s a slight chance for another substorm as the magnetosphere is still sensitive, but this storm is basically over. Thanks for all your reports! Stay tuned for a full recap later this week.

Here are the recorded KP values from this storm (as always subject to revision, but probably won’t change):

Recap of Mid-July recorded KP values as reported by SWPC in Boulder CO
Recap of Mid-July recorded KP values as reported by SWPC in Boulder CO

NLN Live Blog Update – Monday July 17, 13:15 UTC (08:15 EST 7/17)
Live blog time: 38h 45m

Since the last update, there was one more good aurora substorm. Aurora hunters from Detroit and further west were rewarded with some really nice views early this morning. There were northern lights reports coming in from Montana, British Columbia, Mt Adam’s in Washington, and Alberta early this morning. Watch this timelapse from Detroit!

And this Beauty from Alberta

The NLN site seems to be holding up now. We made some emergency changes last nigth – and will be looking into what we can do to sure it up for the next storm. Thank you for sticking with us!

NLN Live Blog Update – Monday July 17, 05:15 UTC (00:15 EST 7/17)
Live blog time: 30h 45m

The aurora seems to be subsiding. Bz levels have been between -5 and -1 nT for the last several hours. While still negative this limits the Aurora potential to around G1 storming. There should still be plenty of opportunity to see aurora for hunters in Canada and across the northern states.

Sites down: The wing KP predictions from SWPC are still unavailable and there is no clear timeline for them being back up. SWPC is continuing to produce three-hour reports of recorded KP. Over the last three hours KP has been recorded at KP=5.00 (G1 storming). In adddition to the WingKP data being unavailable. NLN has had intermittent availability over the last several hours. High traffic has made it difficult for our servers to handle all incoming requests. Please be patient and try again soon if you are having difficulty reaching our site. Today has been our single busiest day in history – thank you for sticking with us!

NLN Live Blog Update – Sunday July 16, 20:00 UTC (16:00 EST)
Live blog time: 22h 30m

As darkness arrives in Europe the aurora is still going strong. Bz has been south, but there were a couple brief moments where it switched to a northward orientation. The variability decreases the intensity of the northern lights display. This down grades the expectations for the next 2-4 hours from G2/G3 to G1 storming with KP in the 5-6 range. That should be good enough for aurora in northern Europe once it is dark.

The SWPC wing-KP model is currently down. This is where NLN and most other aurora sites and apps get their short term KP predictions. We’re hoping SWPC gets it up and running again soon. In the meantime, you can use the ovation model found on the Short Term Prediction down? Use This! Page

Ovation model shows some decrease in aurora activity from earlier today
Ovation model shows some decrease in aurora activity from earlier today

NLN Live Blog Update – Sunday July 16, 13:15 UTC (11:15 EST)
Live blog time: 19h 30m

NLN is trying something new: join our Facebook aurora hunting event. Share with us there what you’d like to see/hear. What questions would you like NLN to answer?

NLN Live Blog Update – Sunday July 16, 13:15 UTC (09:15 EST)
Live blog time: 17h 45m

Speaking of the southern hemisphere getting a show – here’s an image of Ian Griffin in an auroraselfie this morning in New Zealand

NLN Live Blog Update – Sunday July 16, 13:00 UTC (09:00 EST)
Live blog time: 17h 30m

The storm continues to get stronger. In 50 minutes or so, the KP is expected to reach G3 levels! This is because the Bz component of the magnetic field continues to be strongly negative (-10nT or more). This is similar to the readings during the active period on May 27. For now, the timing is best for western North America and Australia/New Zealand. There is no indication yet that the activity should slow in the next 3-4 hours. European aurora hunters are left hoping the storm continues for another 8-12 hours. On the east coast, hunters should hope for another 12-16 hours of activity. Here is the current predicted KP – you can monitor the KP live on the Northern Lights Now site:

KP=6.67 predicted in just under an hour shown on the NLN live KP chart
KP=6.67 predicted in just under an hour shown on the NLN live KP chart

NLN Live Blog Update – Sunday July 16, 10:30 UTC (06:30 EST)
Live blog time: 15h 0m

The orientation of the solar storm is just right! As anticipated, the arriving solar storm is strong, but space scientists don’t have data available yet to know if the structure of the plasma cloud is right to produce aurora until it arrives. This storm is structured correctly and as a result KP is climbing and Aurora hunters are reporting success. Here is the first tweet with a northern lights picture we’ve seen tonight:

NLN Live Blog Update – Sunday July 16, 05:45 UTC (01:45 EST)
Live blog time: 8h 15m

The first indications of the arriving CME are now on display on the DSCOVR solar wind data page. The sudden increase in solar wind speed and shift in density and Bt indicate that the shock at the front of the CME has arrived at the DSCOVR satellite. The next several hours of data will be crucial in knowing if there will be a good aurora storm. Watch the Bz – if it shifts south (negative on the charts) and stays that way it means the solar storm is oriented properly to give us a show.

DSCOVR solar wind data indicates the arrival of the anticipated CME
DSCOVR solar wind data indicates the arrival of the anticipated CME

NLN Live Blog Update – Sunday July 16, 05:30 UTC (01:30 EST)
Live blog time: 8h 0m

One of the best indicators of an approaching CME is rising levels as measured by the EPAM (Electron, Proton, and Alpha-particle Monitor) instrument on ACE. Measured levels of protons increase as the CME gets closer. They peak just as the CME hits or passes Earth. When the levels increase like they are in the graph below, it is a strong indicator that the solar storm is likely to hit soon.

Rising Proton counts on the EPAM instrument indicate a CME is approaching
Rising Proton counts on the EPAM instrument indicate a CME is approaching

NLN Live Blog Update – Sunday July 16, 02:30 UTC (22:30 EST)
Live blog time: 5h 0m

The G2 storm watch has begun! While the storming isn’t expected to arrive for another 8-12 hours, forecasts are generally 6-12 hours off in either direction. If the CME is moving faster than the models anticipate, it will arrive early, if it’s slower it may not arrive until midday tomorrow. Keep your eyes on the data as activity could start at any time now. This graph from NOAA shows the storm watch as a green bar

SWPC Notifications timeline shows the G2 storm watch has begun
SWPC Notifications timeline shows the G2 storm watch has begun

NLN Live Blog Update – Sunday July 16, 23:45 UTC (19:45 EST)
Live blog time: 2h 15m

The incoming storm has the potential to bring G2 and G3 storming – but what does that mean? The G levels correspond to how strong the geomagnetic storm is. The strength is measured in Kp, a scale that goes from 0 at no activity to 9 when there is maximum activity. The higher the KP is the strong the aurora will appear and the further south they will be visible in the Northern Hemisphere and the further north they will be visible in the southern hemisphere. G2 is a reading of 5.67 on the KP scale, G3 is a reading of 6.67 on the scale. Here’s a helpful map that shows how the KP corresponds to where the lights might be visible.

Global KP boundaries map shows what KP you need to see Aurora
Global KP boundaries map shows what KP you need to see Aurora

Southern Hemisphere KP Maps
Southern Hemisphere KP Maps

NLN Live Blog Update – Sat July 15, 21:30 UTC (17:30 EST)
live blog time: 0h 0m
Here is the initial forecast for when this aurora storm will be strongest:

NLN Aurora clock shows time when Aurora may reach G1 and G2 storming
NLN Aurora clock shows time when Aurora may reach G1 and G2 storming

As always with space weather predictions there is a lot of uncertainty. The watch indicates there is the potential for G2 storming, but if the CME is oriented the wrong way as it arrives there may be minimal aurora. At the same time, if it comes it just right, there could be G3 or G4 storming that is seen as far south at Kentucky and Arizona.

Potential For G2/G3 Aurora July 16 and 17

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Northern Lights Now – A large, long duration M2.44 Solar flare launched an Earth-directed CME from the surface of the Sun early on July 14 that may make for a period of active aurora on July 16 and 17. The NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) has issued a G2 storm watch for both days indicating that the aurora activity readings could be as high as KP=5.67. There is a chance that this storm could reach G3 storm levels.

NLN will be activating an Aurora live blog over the next several days, so come back often for updates. For starters, here is a quick animation of the flare that generated the CME that will impact Earth.

Happy Hunting

Finally – East coast may see colorful clouds from NASA Wallops Sounding Rocket Test On Fathers Day

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Northern Lights Now – After several scrubs, NASA looks set to successfully launch a Terrier Improved Malemute sounding rockets on Father’s Day, Sunday evening June 18, between 9:04 and 9:20 pm. The mission will deploy gasses into the ionosphere that hopefully will be visible as different colored high altitude clouds. Scientists are hoping to measure and track gas particle movements within these clouds. It is expected that the experiment will test some aurora imaging technologies, and the data may help use get a better understanding of Aurora. You may be able to see this launch if you live in the shaded areas in the map below!

Areas where it may be possible to see the Father's Day sounding rocket launch
Areas where it may be possible to see the Father’s Day sounding rocket launch

NASA scientists need it to be clear at either the launch site or nearby Duck, North Carolina to study the induced clouds. Several recent scrubs have been the result of skies that were too cloudy or hazy to be able to see the experiment. Another scrub was the result of boats in the “danger zone,” the area where the sounding rocket is expected to land in the ocean at the end of it’s task.

So far, it’s looking like the weather could be touch and go. The forecast calls for a chance of thunderstorms. An ill-timed thunderstorm arrival could make for yet another scrub. If the storms roll through at 6:00 and it clears out – there’s a good chance the launch will happen this time as long as boaters stay out of the danger zone.

What will I see During the the DC launch and test?

Viewers from New York City South to Greenville, North Carolina have a chance to see the rocket itself and the induced clouds. It is hard to know what the clouds will look like, but reports are that they may look similar to aurora or noctilucent clouds. However they look, it may be possible to see them with your bare eyes. The timing of the launch coincides with nautical twilight, so it will be after sunset, but there will still be a little light in the air.

To increase your odds of seeing this show, bring your digital camera and a tripod. Photographing these clouds will be similar to photographing aurora – and a great chance to practice! You don’t need a high end camera, but you will need to be able to manually set Aperture, ISO and exposure duration. Photograph the clouds with long exposures (1-5 seconds) and higher ISO (800-3200). Set your focus to infinity and consider a delay on the camera between hitting the trigger and when the image start so the camera can settle. If you get a great image, be sure to share it on NLN’s Twitter feed

What is a Sounding Rocket?

Sounding rockets are small instrument-carrying rockets designed to cost effectively reach altitudes between 50 and 1500 km. This is between the area that weather balloons can reach and where it is coast effective to send a satellite. They are frequently used in research because a mission can be designed and completed in months to years compared to the years it may take to get an experiment aboard a satellite mission. NASA has a terrific quick 5 minute video talking about sounding rockets and an experiment they were used for to study aurora

Images of several different sounding rockets
Images of several different sounding rockets

Happy Hunting!