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.

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

Short Term Prediction Down? Use This!

The solar flares that are producing the predicted geomagnetic storms (1/8/2014 – 1/10/2014) have also produced a solar radiation storm at level S2. This solar radiation storm has temporarily taken the ACE (Advanced Composition Explorer) satellite out of service. The data this satellite collects is one of the main inputs used for short term Kp prediction.

The data from ACE is used when estimating the short term Kp values – the ones you see in the sidebar. When this data is bad, there are two alternatives. First, the USAF reports the current Kp index every three hours. NLN will post the USAF current Kp value in the side bar when the short term Kp values are not dependable.

Second, the NOAA Ovation model predicts the near term 30-45 minute current Northern Hemisphere Aurora visibility. This model works well for Kp values under 7, but is not proven yet for higher Kp values. Here is the current Ovation model output for the northern hemisphere.

Ovation forecast model - Northern hemisphere

Hopefully if you came to this post because the ACE satellite is down, it will be back up soon!

Aurora Watch for January 8th, 2014

The Aurora Gods came together today.   The Sun has been super-active over the last couple days.   Sunspot 1944 is now at beta-delta-gamma, and produced an x-class flare today.  The Space Weather Prediction Center posted a watch for tonight with a possible Kp = 5, and a watch for tomorrow night for a G2 storm with Kp values up to 6.  SWPC has hinted that we may hit Major Storm Level on the January 9th. The timing of this potential storm is perfect, it should be clear across most of the north eastern United States. However, the Midwest is more likely to have clouds thanks to waning the Polar Vortex.

Yea – I’m excited, this is the best setup since the night we saw the Aurora in Malletts Bay.

— Charles