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.

Region 1967 – Several M-class, 2 CMEs, and a G1 watch (so far!)

For the last several days, solar activity has been between moderate and high. In total we’ve seen over 30 C-Class flares, 13 M-class flares, and 2 CMEs with Earth directed components. The SWPC has posted a G1 (Minor) Geomagnetic Storm Watch for the arrival of a partial halo CME on sometime between midnight Saturday (UTC) and midnight Sunday.

SDO image of M6.68 Solar flare
M6.68 Solar Flare January 30, 2014 Source: SDO

In the last post about Region 1967 we discussed how this region held a lot of potential for producing additional flares. It has not disappointed, but it has yet to produce sure-win flare for producing aurora.

After the 7 M-Class flares on Tuesday, the region produced none on Wednesday, 3 on Thursday, none on Friday and 2 M-Class flares so far today – February 1, 2014. Of all of those flares, the biggest was an M6.6 (pictured above) on Thursday at 16:28 UTC. It produced the CME that prompted the Space Weather Prediction Center to release the G1 geomagnetic storm watch. The LASCO imagery showed a partial halo for this CME – that means the majority of the CME is not-directed to Earth, only a small amount has an Earth directed component. So, this G1 watch comes with a stronger than normal caveat and reminder that only about 50% of the time there is a G1 watch does the Kp reach 5. Of course, as always, you can keep an eye on the current short term Kp predictions at NLN on our live chart.

Region 1967 has 5 delta spots. The delta spots have grown and become closer together over the last couple days. The region has also developed several new spots over the last 12 hours that we are monitoring. The region is still positioned well to produce an Earth-directed CME.

Region 1968 produced an M-Class flare as well. This region was upgraded to Beta-Gamma magnetic structure. It has grown from 160 Millionths to 210 Millionths. The region is showing signs of increasing in magnetic complexity. The fact that this region generated this flare reminds us that delta structures are not necessarily required to produce M-Class flares. We’ll be keeping an eye on this region over the next several days as well.

Bottom line: There is a chance for aurora Saturday or Sunday night. Keep track of the Kp number and be prepared to go aurora hunting. Keep an eye on the solar flares coming from regions 1967 (Beta-Gamma-Delta) and 1968 (Deta-Gamma) over the next couple days as they are well positioned and have magnetic complexity. Follow NLN on social media for alerts about Kp and CMEs.

Happy Hunting!

Very Active Solar Region 1967 (Beta-Delta-Gamma) Is Well Positioned for Potential Aurora

Remember Solar region 1944 from earlier in January? It moved across the solar disk from left to right as viewed from Earth. As it did, it grew in magnetic complexity. It fired a giant X1.2 solar flare with an associated CME. Well, it’s back as solar region 1967, and over the next several days is positioned almost perfectly to produce Northern Lights:

The region rotated around the back side of the Sun, out of view, between January 14th, 2014 and January 27th, 2014. Today, it appeared on the eastern horizon or the left side as viewed from Earth. The region appears to have maintained it size or grown on its journey. The NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center numbers sunspot regions as they develop or when they rotate into view. Re-appearing regions are re-numbered. In this case, Region 1944 was re-numbered region 1967.

There have been indications over the last several days that old region 1944 might re-appear with high magnetic complexity. Several M-class flares just over the Eastern horizon were recorded January 26 and 27th. As the region rotated into view, it was first classified as Beta. This afternoon, four delta regions rotated onto the visible disk in the trailing spots. Once those were identified, the region magnetic classification was upgraded to Beta-Delta-Gamma. Regions with delta spots are much more likely M and X class flares. There have already been 6 M-class flares today.

This active solar region is in a position that any CMEs it produces will likely have Earthbound components. If that happens, we have increased chances of seeing Northern Lights in the mid and potentially lower latitudes on Earth.

The pieces are coming together to say there is a decent chance of a CME over the next 1-5 days, and there is a good chance that if there is a CME it will have an Earthbound component. It might be time to start thinking about where you would go to see Aurora late this week, or this weekend.

Happy Hunting and keep tuned to Northern Lights Now for more updates!

Last Minute Aurora Viewing Preparation Guide

We wait a long time before the is an opportunity to potentially see the Aurora Borealis. Conditions have to come together just right. There has to be a sun spot, it has to be in the correct location on the solar disk, it has to have the correct magnetic complexity, it has to produce a solar flare, the solar flare has to be directed towards Earth. All of those elements give you a 3 day window to know when there *might* be Northern Lights visible. Then the weather has to be clear, the flare has to hit Earth when it is nighttime at your location, and it helps if the Moon is in the right Phase.

All of those elements are coming together tonight. Here’s a last minute check-list you can use any time you are going to go out viewing Aurora.

1) Is there a potential storm?

Generally, the Space Weather Predicition Center will issues alerts when there might be a light show. These will be rated G1, G2 and G3 – three being the most likely to see northern lights the furthest south. Tonight – there is a G3 watch posted.

2) Will it be clear?

Aurora happen in the uppermost part of the atmosphere. If it is cloudy, you won’t see aurora. The easiest way to tell if it is clear is to stick your head out the window. If you are locked in an office, you can check cloudiness on your local weather. If you live in the United States, the Weather Channel Website offers a current and predicted map of cloud cover over the next 4-6 hours.

3) Is it dark?

This sounds obvious, but it has to be dark to see Aurora. The darker the better. Choose a viewing location that has as little light pollution as possible. If you live near big cities, get as much of the light from them to your back as possible. The moon produces light too. You can view current Moon phases at SunriseSunset, enter your location and be sure to check the box to display moon phases and moonrise and moonset. If at all possible, time your viewing for after moonset or before moonrise.

4) Is the Kp high enough?

Know your local Kp value. Kp is a global average of Geomagnetic activity happening on Earth. The scale ranges from 0 – 9. This handy map will show you what Kp value you need to possibly see Aurora at your location. Track the current and near-term predicted Kp values on Northern Lights Now’s Live KP page. You will see near term predicted Kp values on the right sidebar.


5) Are you dressed warmly enough?

When waiting for Aurora, you will likely sit outdoors for hours before you see anything (unless you are LUCKY!). It will be night, and it will probably be cold. Make sure to wear enough layers. Wear layers like you would if it was about 20 degrees colder than the actual temperature.

6) Are your camera and tripod ready?

You don’t have to take pictures of Aurora, but many people like to. Most standard digital Cameras will do a good job capturing Aurora, but you may need a 20-40 second exposure. You will definitely need a tripod.

7) Are your expectations correct?

Many people hunt Aurora their entire life and don’t get to see it. It is a rare and exciting moment when it happens. But many factors have to come together just right for you to see them. If you don’t see Northern Lights this time out, keep your hopes up, you may get to see them next time.

If you do see northern lights, we’d love to hear your stories and see your picture!

Good Luck