Northern Lights Now – The fall aurora season kicks off around the end of August when the nights in the Nordic countries (Sweden, Finland, Norway, Iceland and Denmark) start to get long enough and dark enough to see the northern lights. This year, the season should start off with a bang as a G1 storm is predicted that should bring a nice show.
Northern Lights Now Twitter follower Mia Stålnacke captured these pictures in Sweden earlier this week as aurora season gets under way.
Earth will come under the influence of a coronal hole, a corotating interaction region (CIR) and a solar storm over the next several days. There is a chance conditions may reach G2 on September 1st as the edge of a solar storm delivers a glancing blow.
On August 31st the high speed winds generated by the coronal hole shown below will start to push on Earth’s magnetosphere. The CH, which is the dark area on the image below, covers much of the northern hemisphere and crosses into the southern hemisphere. That means it is highly likely the winds will pick up at Earth about 3 days after the region was pointed towards Earth on the center of the disk. At about the same time, the CIR will also arrive. Current models indicate the solar wind speeds could reach between 550 and 600 km/s.
Later, on Sept 1 a small solar storm that was released during an eruption near active region 2672. Watch that eruption in this video. The eruption happened on the very western edge of the Earth stike zone and is not large. Most of the plasma emitted will miss earth to the west, but in the WSA-Enlil model below, see that the flank of the cloud may brush by Earth. Earth’s magnetosphere is likely to be activated as a result of 36 hours of high speed wind. That activation should accentuate any impact from the solar storm.
With this space weather setup, there is a good chance that at least one of the features will produce G1 storming (KP=5 or higher) in the next three days. If the solar storm is oriented just right, and is moving slightly faster than modeled and arrives in closer proximity to the high speed solar wind, KP values may reach G2 storm levels. Below is the official forecast from SWPC as displayed by the NLN auroraCast clock. Orange shows periods when G1 storming is expected:
Aurora hunters should be watching the data over the next three days and have their cameras ready.
Northern Lights Now – The August 21st Great American Eclipse promises to be the most photographed eclipse on record.
Millions of people will be able to see either a partial or full eclipse just by walking outside and using their eclipse glasses to observe the Sun.
Viewers lucky enough to be in the path of totality will see the Sun as a dark circle surrounded by the bright corona. They will see familiar winter star constellations. Jupiter, Mars, Venus and Mercury will be visible.
There are three particularly interesting and exciting Phenomena that eclipse chasers may see in the coronal that are relevant to aurora hunting.
At Northern Lights Now we frequently post images from the LASCO C2 and C3 chronographs. These are images of the Sun from satellites that by simulating eclipses with a round disk is extended by an arm in front of the lens. The disk blots out the Sun allowing the camera to capture the corona. These images allow space weather scientists to see the plasma that erupts from the Sun during solar flares and filament eruptions.
If there is one of these Corona Mass Eruptions (CMEs) during the time of the eclipse, ground based viewers (you!) will be able to see the eruption in the corona during totality. It won’t look like the dramatic image above, because that is several hours of eruption compressed in a timelapse. You will see the equivalent of one or two frames of the timelapse during the time you are in totality. But when you share you photos on Twitter, you will be able to combine them with the images other viewers take, and together we may be able to build a time lapse of ground based eclipse imagery that may show a CME in progress.
Up until about a week ago, the chances for a CME during totality were low. The Sun is currently approaching its minimum activity of solar eruptions in the 11 year cycle. But several active sunspot regions, where these eruptions originate, have grown over the last 2-3 days. The odds of a CME during totality are still low, less than 20%, but they are high enough it is worth keeping track of the active sunspot regions as they grow.
Solar prominences on the limbs
When active filaments and solar prominences are on the limb, they are easy to see and identify because they have stark contrast with the blackness of space behind the Sun. They appear clearly in AIA 304 imagery as they float above or lift off the surface of the Sun.
Similarly, during an eclipse these features appear visibly as bright structured areas in the corona to ground based viewers. If there happen to be prominences on the limb at the time of totality, this is a treat to see.
Sun Grazing and Sun Diving Comets
Several times a month comets are pulled into the gravity of the Sun and they burn up as they fly by or crash into the Sun. Sun grazers fly by and become visible as they melt and have a tail while Sun diving comets crash into the Sun never to be seen again. Aurora hunters are familiar with these as they often show up in LASCO imagery. If there is a comet hurtling towards the Sun and it has a tail during the time of totality, it will may be visible.
Sun diving and Sun grazing comets to not have any impact on solar storms or our ability to see aurora. They are a familiar feature to aurora hunters and the eclipse provides a unique opportunity to see them during the day.
********** Eclipse viewing Warning ************
DO NOT Look at the eclipse without protection. You will burn your retinas by staring at the Sun during the eclipse. Sun Glasses are not protection. You need SO and CE certified viewing glasses to look at the sun during any phase of the eclipse that is partial. You can make a pinhole viewer to watch the eclipse if you do not have safe glasses. Please don’t end up in the hospital, please don’t end up blind.
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.
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):
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!
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
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:
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.
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.
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
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.
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:
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.