By JIM THOMAS -- Soft Serve News

Auroras are difficult to predict with precision. They have stops and starts (known as sub-storms). If you are out there, you need to be patient and lucky. Here are some tools that will increase your chances.


Here is the prediction of storm intensity for the next few minutes (the higher the Kp number, the larger the Aurora):

The Space Environment Center's Neural Net Program estimates that . . .

in 3 minutes, the Geomagnetic Activity level (Kp number) will be 3 -- Active.
in 16 minutes, the Geomagnetic Activity level (Kp number) will be 3 -- Active.
in 38 minutes, the Geomagnetic Activity level (Kp number) will be 3 -- Active.
in 50 minutes, the Geomagnetic Activity level (Kp number) will be 3 -- Active.

(Refresh this page to update the above, it is updated on the server every 2 minutes)

The Real Secret to seeing the Aurora

Now, find the Kp number line on one of the following maps that matches the Kp number predicted above. If you are located at or above the estimated Kp line, you are in the right spot. You might even be in luck if you are located within next lower line, but you will have to look lower on the horizon. Be aware though, ground based light pollution and weather will have a greater impact at these more marginal locations.

North American Kp Map

Europe & Asia Kp Map


It's critical to get confirmation of activity with NOAA's Ovation map. The Kp number gives nice info on how large the storm is, but the Ovation map does a better job of telling you if you can actually see it. It gives a 30 to 40 minute forecast of the predicted size of the aurora along with a color-coded probability of seeing the aurora over various spots on the Earth. Here is the most up-to-date image:

Ovation forecast model - Northern hemisphere

It's a great sign if you see a thick aurora band with some areas of light yellow, orange or, better yet, RED on this map as opposed to just a thin (or transparent) band with only dark green. (Here's a larger, high resolution image in case you need it.)

Unfortunately, one drawback of the above Ovation model is that it cannot tell the difference between a large storm and a very large storm. Basically, the Ovation model tops-out at 7 Kp. If the Kp goes above 7, do not rely on this image to show the full extent of the storm, rather rely on the Kp number prediction and the Kp maps above.

Here's the most recent historic image of the aurora oval, but note this shows the past, not the future (image is 2 hours and 24 minutes old).

Space Environment Center

The closer you are to the oval the better. Strong Auroras enlarge the circle and push it southward. The red arrow points towards the sun (high noon).

If you're looking at this during the day, check the 'rough prediction' for tonight by clicking on the below map

University of Alaska - Geophysical Institute

(When you get to the site, click on one of the icons on the lower left for the map of your area)

(Story continues below)


Dark. Dark. Dark. It is not just about low light. It is important to remember the widest part of the Aurora is when the sun is on the opposite side of the earth. So late, nighttime (or early morning) dark tends to be best. But you also want few competing light sources so get away from the city lights and let your eyes adjust to the darkness. The further away from those earth based light sources the better for seeing the Northern Lights. Full moons hurt a bit because they increase ambient light and darkness is best for viewing. The darker the moon, the better. Here's how the moon looks right now:

How the moon looks right now


Auroras happen in the upper atmosphere, so if there is cloud cover, you are out of luck. Cold and clear are best for viewing the Aurora:

US Satellite Animation Map

Western Europe Satellite Animation Map


While they have seen Auroral sub-storms as far down as Cuba, realistically north is where you need to be. The stronger the Aurora the more south one can see it. Check the Kp maps (above) and the size of the aurora oval (also above). Also, if you're not sure which way is north, don't forget to bring a compass.


Let's say two months from now the Aurora is flaring up in your area -- the sky is ablaze with greens, violets and reds -- but instead of watching it, you're home sitting on the couch.

Why? Because you simply didn't know about it.

That's one of the problems with seeing the Aurora. It doesn’t run on a schedule. Often Auroras happen with only 30 minutes warning.

That's why it's important to have a partner watching out for it for you. Someone who will watch the Aurora data, then, notify you immediately when the conditions are right for your area.

If you're serious about experiencing the Aurora, get your own personal Aurora Alerts.

I hope you get to see an awesome Aurora soon, and the best of luck to you in all your endeavors!