Category Archives: Photos

Live Storm Updates – G2 Aurora Now

Share Button

Northern Lights Now – This post contains live updates to the storm predicted in Coronal Hole Prompts G1 Aurora Watch for Sat/Sun March 3rd and 4th.

March 7, 2016 03:45UTC (10:45 PM EST)

Tonight’s Aurora show has ended for most viewers. There may still be some good photos come in from areas that only need KP=4, but for the mostpart it’s time to good to bed for the sleep deprived intrepid aurora hunters. By all accounts it has been a terrific night. The official prediction was for a single 3-hour period of KP=5, but there were 12 hours with the KP in the G1 zone with a peak period of G3 activity:

Boulder KP readings show 12 hours of G1, G2, and G3 activity
Boulder KP readings show 12 hours of of G1, G2, and G3 activity

This evening Eastern North America joined in the action just as the storm was abating – hunters in Prince Edward Island, Maine and New Hampshire all reported success:

PEI from aurora hunter John Morris:

Maine from our friend Rob Wright:

New Hampshire from the Mount Washington Observatory atop the White Mountains:

March 7, 2016 00:30UTC (7:30 PM EST)

The storm has started to abated just a little. But it has been great. We haven’t seen any aurora posted by hunters in North America yet, but we expect at least some from Maine and PEI soon. Bz has been north over the last 20 minutes. If it stays that way, the show will be over in about 45 minutes. If it shifts back to the south, even parts of the midwest could have an opportunity for aurora tonight.

March 6, 2016 19:30UTC (5:30 PM EST)

This is an absolutely amazing storm! Bz continues to be south as much as 10nT, Bt has been between 10nT and 20nT for hours, and there are clear skies in much of the UK and Ireland. One indicator of the strength of this is storm is all the reports of Red hues to the aurora.

Check out these wonderful aurora tweets:

March 6, 2016 17:00UTC (3:00 PM EST)

This storm is continuing to get stronger. KP is predicted to be 6.67 in 45 minutes. Aurora reports are streaming in on Twitter from

Ireland:

Northumberland :

and Netherlands:

March 6, 2016 16:00UTC (2:00 PM EST)

As expected, the Wing KP model was under-estimating the strength of this storm. The Boulder Kp which is based on ground measurments over the last three hours was just updated to 5.67 indicating G2 storming. There is nothing in the data to suggest this won’t be a very good storm for Europe and possibly Iceland and the northeastern US once it gets dark. Here’s a snapshot of the current Ovation model output:

Ovation shows the extent and strength of Aurora continuing to increase
Ovation shows the extent and strength of Aurora continuing to increase

March 6, 2016 13:00UTC (11:00 PM EST)

Solar wind data at ACE is indicating that the high speed solar wind from the coronal hole is arriving. The Bz component of the magnetic field is oriented south and has been for over an hour and a half. Wing KP (which the graph to the right and in the post below) is based on is indicating a predicted KP of 4.00. This likely an underestimate of the actual KP. Once the Boulder ground-based KP readings come in, the wing KP model will respond with higher readings. This is looking like it could be a good storm!

Wing KP is showing expected KP of 4.0 soon
Wing KP is showing expected KP of 4.0 soon

International Space Station Flyover Visible to Millions on February 3, 2016

Share Button

Northern Lights Now – The International Space Station (ISS) will be visible to as many as 80 million Americans on the East Coast Wednesday evening, February 3rd, starting at 6:17PM in Charlotte, NC and continuing until it passes into the Earth’s shadows for viewers in Portland, ME at 6:24PM. Along the way, viewers up and down the East Coast in Richmond, Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York and Boston should have optimal views. The pass will be visible to viewers as far west as Chicago (Briefly), Pittsburgh, and NLN’s hometown of Burlington, Vermont.

Infographic showing ISS viewing timeline for East Coast Cities

Images above come from astroviewer.net, where you can enter your location and find your exact time to expect to see the ISS. According to Astroviewer, this pass will have a brightness magnitude of -3.3 for locations where it is passing directly overhead. For reference, that is slightly brighter than Jupiter appears when Jupiter is at it brightest. However, the ISS is much easier to see than Jupiter because it appears much bigger and it will be moving quickly across the sky. At any point in the transit, the Sun could glint off the solar panels producing a “flare” that could be reach magnitude -8 for a couple seconds.

The ISS appears so big that with a good pair of binoculars or a telescope, it should be possible to make out the shape of the station and see the identify the components of the craft. Here’s an image captured in England in April of 2015 by astrophotographer Roger Hutchinson.

ISS captured from Earth by Astrophotgrapher Roger Hutchinson in April 2016
ISS captured from Earth by Astrophotgrapher Roger Hutchinson in April 2016

The flyby will be a terrific opportunity to spur the interest of brand new stargazers. This pass will be easily accessible due to the time in the evening and because it will be a 5-6 minute pass with nearly a full arc for most people in the viewing zone. For more experienced stargazers, check out this video from the BBC on how to photograph the space station that features the photo above.

Skies should be very dark while ISS traverses the sky. The Moon will be a waning crescent and will not rise until well after midnight. For best viewing, find a dark location away from city lights and skyglow. However, even in cities, it should be possible to spot the satellite as long as there’s a open horizon to horizon view.

As is always the case with night sky viewing, clouds obstruct the view. As of this writing, 9 days out, the weather is somewhat dicey. There is a storm system predicted for the east coast Wednesday. If it is overcast where in your viewing location, you will not have a chance to see this pass. It is still early in the forecast cycle so the storm’s predicted arrival could easily be moved forward or back in the forecast between now and Wednesday, or it may not materialize at all. Any of those scenarios could leave clear skies for viewers on the East Coast.

Here’s the current GFS model run for 7:00pm EST on Wednesday Feb 3:

As of 1/26, the GFS long range model predicts a storm for the eastern US at during the flyover
As of 1/26, the GFS long range model predicts a storm for the eastern US at during the flyover

Update (1/29/2016):

There is still likely to cloudy in the Northeast for this flyover. However, the models have been showing this storm faster with each successive run. If the trend continues, the storm may clear out in time for the skies to clear up for most viewers. Here’s the latest model run showing fewer clouds than there were in the original post:

1/29 GFS model run shows the storm may move fast enough to provide many viewers with clear skies
1/29 GFS model run shows the storm may move fast enough to provide many viewers with clear skies

Winter Solstice 2015 Solar Storm Recap

Share Button

Northern Lights Now – On December 20th and 21st of 2015 the third largest geomagnetic storm of solar cycle 24 treated aurora hunters to 30 hours of dancing lights. The long duration of the storm gave nighttime photographers in North America two opportunities to see the northern lights through gaps in the clouds. Aurora reports on Twitter filled the NLN feed with images first from Wisconsin, then Alberta, Alaska, New Zealand, Northern Europe, Austria, Germany, England, Ireland, Iceland and then the North America again. Here is a chart of the official NOAA/SWPC recorded KP values from Boulder during the storm:

Boulder recorded 30 hours of G1-G2 storming during the winter solstice storm. of 2015
Boulder recorded 30 hours of G1-G2 storming during the winter solstice storm. of 2015

This solar storm started from two events on the Sun’s surface. The first was a long duration C6.69 flare at nearly dead center in the Earth strike zone. The second was a filament eruption to the south and east of the first eruption. Both events produced CMEs. Read more about the pair of eruptions NLN’s initial blog post on this storm.

Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland by Roy Smith Photo:

The CMEs from these two storms arrived later than initially predicted. Initial predictions were that the leading edge of the CME would reach Earth early in the day on December 19. The CME’s initial interplanetary shock was detected in ACE satellite data around 1520 GMT. Those 15 hours were time that many nighttime photographers wished they were sleeping instead!

Once they arrived, the two storms hit in sequence, not quite merging. As the storms played out, both had strongly negative Bz. Negative Bz is an aurora hunter’s dream. Once the field shifts south, a good show is sure to come – but we never know Bz until Earth is in the CME cloud. Space Weather scientists are still anticipate a long time before Bz can be accurately predicted in advance of a CME arrival. For now, forecasters assume arriving CMEs plasma clouds have a roughly 50/50 chance of being oriented with a Bz south.

In the Winter Solstice Storm of 2015, once the Bz shifted south, it stayed strongly south for 32 hours from 02:30GUTC on the 20th through 1030UTC on the 21st. During that time, the Bz deflection remained around -16 to -18 nT. Interestingly, after the initial shock, solar wind speeds stayed relatively low at below 450km/s for the duration of the storm. Had solar wind speeds been stronger, it’s possible that G3 level storming might have occurred. The slow wind speeds probably increased the duration of the storm (if the CME was moving faster, it would have completed it’s pass by Earth more quickly).

With a special shoutout to @VirtualAstro who helped surface some of these, here are some of our favorite images from this worldwide display of northern lights:

Swirls of green glow behind snow covered pine trees in Alaska by David W. Shaw

Green and yellow arches in the sky behind a church in Alberta by Célestine Aerden:

A string of pearls in the sky, technically called Auroral Beads, @Inukphysiker called this “lightsabors in the sky”

Another star wars reference came from Notanee Bourassa with this light-sabor aurora selfie

Team Tanner in Alberta often captures wonderful northern lights images, this anelic set was from Theresa (Tree) Tanner:

Finally, a stunning backdrop of purples and greens behind a solitary KW photography in Upstate New York:

Happy Hunting!