Category Archives: News

Aurora May 16 through May 20 Live Blog

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Northern Lights Now – There is an extended period of active aurora predicted for the third week of May 2016. NLN is going into live-blog mode to provide updates as the storm unfolds. Please check this page often.

NLN Live Blog Update – Wed May 17, 10:00 UTC (07:00 EST)

Solar wind speeds have been slowly decreasing overnight as the influence from the first coronal hole wanes. Winds speeds have dropped to around 500km/s. Bz has been oriented southward (negative) for over 2 hours now. The combination what is responsible for pushing short-term Kp predictions to between 3 and 4. Even with the strength of the field low, extended periods of Bz like this can lead to aurora. We aren’t expecting any amazing jumps in Kp until other solar wind parameters become more favorable.

The next feature that may become evident in this storm is the arrival or glancing blow from the CME that launched late on May 13. The material from the CME is slow moving and mostly to the south of Earth. SWPC models are indicating some of the material may have been on the Earth-Sun plane. Here is a snapshot of the CME in lasco C2 and C3 imagery. It is faint, but the CME can be seen as a “cloud” emanating from the bottom right of the Sun at starting around the 21:00 timestamp in C2 (orange/red) and the 22:30 timestamp in C3 (blue)

CME launches late on 5/13 as shown in LASCO C2 imagery from SOHO
CME launches late on 5/13 as shown in LASCO C2 imagery from SOHO
The same CME, but imaged in C3 - zoomed out a little.
The same CME, but imaged in C3 – zoomed out a little.

NLN Live Blog Update – Wed May 17, 03:45 UTC (11:45 EST)

As of midnight, a G2 storm watch is now in effect. SWPC extended the watch an additional 24 hours through May 19. The 19th currently looks like it will be the most active day this week. G1 and G2 storming is predicted for all but one 3-hour period during the that day. Here is the NLN AuroraCast showing the predicted KP for each 3-hour time period over the next three days.

3-day AuroraCast shows very active geomagnetic activity the next three days - particularly on May 19
3-day AuroraCast shows very active geomagnetic activity the next three days – particularly on May 19

For the first day of this event, measured KP peaked at 3.00. Storm levels did not reach the G1 threshold.

NLN Live Blog Update – Tue May 16, 21:00 UTC (17:00 EST)

Despite a G1 storm watch posted for today, it doesn’t appear KP levels will reach 4.67 today. Solar wind speed have increased as a result of the coronal hole high speed stream and have been above 500km/s for most of the day. Solar winds reached a peak speed of 678km/s early in the UTC day, but have since declined. It is not unusual that a predicted G1 storm does not live up to expectations, there is plenty of activity predicted for the next 2 days and probably more. Stay tuned.

Potential for Mid-May Aurora prompts G1 and G2 storm watch

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Northern Lights Now – The large coronal hole that was pointed directly towards Earth on May 12th and 13th combined with recent solar disturbances prompted space weather forecasters to predict there will be an extended period of aurora activity the third week of May. The Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) issued storm watches for three consecutive days with a G1 watch posted for May 16, and G2 watches posted for both May 17 and 18. A G1 storm watch means KP values will likely exceed 4.67 during the 24 hour period, a G2 storm watch means the KP will likely exceed 5.67.

SWPC Notifications timeline shows a G1 watch issued for 5/16 and G2 watches on 5/17 and 5/18
SWPC Notifications timeline shows a G1 watch issued for 5/16 and G2 watches on 5/17 and 5/18

The coronal hole responsible for the expected activity stretched from North to South on the solar disk on May 13. In the image below, the coronal hole is the outlined darker area at the time it was directed towards Earth. High speed solar wind exiting from that region should arrive at Earth around May 16. As it arrives, expect solar wind speed readings from DSCOVR to increase, possibly to as high as 600 km/s. As the higher wind pushes on Earth’s magnetosphere, KP will read higher and any aurora will be stronger during periods of negative Bz.

Coronal Hole Faces Earth on May 13, 2017
Coronal Hole Faces Earth on May 13, 2017

Please monitor the Northern Lights Now Twitter feed and the live KP charts for updates on when it may be a good time to go out and watch the northern or southern lights dance.

Happy Hunting

Early March G2 Aurora Strom Puts on a Global Show

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Northern Lights Now – An extended period of high solar winds, the result of a large Earth-directed coronal hole, put on a three day long show for aurora hunters in high latitudes in early March. Photographers captured aurora glows, pillars, picket fences, dancing displays and illuminated night landscapes from around the world between mid March 1 through early March 4. Here’s a spectacular time lapse video from Adam Hill showing a wave of northern lights racing westward through the sky.

This extended storm was measured by the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) as 9 periods of G1 storming and one period of G2 storming over 66 hours. G1 storming means the KP reached 4.67 and aurora can be visible as far south as Toronto, the upper midwest in the United States, Seattle and Scotland and can be seen as far north as Invercargill and Tasmania in the Southern Hemisphere. G2 storming means aurora can be seen at even lower latitudes near cities such as Portland, Boise, Dublin, Hamburg, Moscow and Christchurch. This chart show the first 5 days of March with the G1 and G2 3-hour periods showing in Red.

5 days of geomagnetic activity as measured by NOAA and SWPC
5 days of geomagnetic activity as measured by NOAA and SWPC

This early march storm is the result of a coronal hole that was pointed towards earth at the end of February. The hole is shown as a dark area on AIA 193 in the image below. It exposes the high speed solar wind emanating from the solar surface. Here’s an image of the coronal hole from the Solar Dynamics Observatory:

Coronal hole in AIA 193 shown as a dark finger reaching up toward center disk from the pole
Coronal hole in AIA 193 shown as a dark finger reaching up toward center disk from the pole

Those high speed solar winds take 2-5 days to arrive at Earth, and when they do they push on the magnetosphere and can cause aurora. This means that when there is a coronal hole pointed towards Earth solar scientists can predict that there is a good chance for activity 1-3 days in advance. Watch for those predictions on the NLN 3-day aurora cast – potential G1 storming shows as orange on those charts.

Let’s enjoy the view! Here are a few of our favorite tweets from this storm:

Watch the cloud clear and the lights come out to play in this time lapse

Stan’s take shows the aurora in black and white – this really brings out the texture and shapes

This panorama is worth clicking on and viewing full screen!

Finally, one of our favorite types of aurora – the “Picket Fence”

If you would like to have a chance to see the northern lights in person, consider following the NLN twitter feed (@northlightalert) to learn more about why aurora happen and when they may be visible.