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. You should check them at the last minute.


REAL TIME AURORA BOREALIS PREDICTION:

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 10 minutes, the Geomagnetic Activity level (Kp number) will be 1 -- Quiet
in 24 minutes, the Geomagnetic Activity level (Kp number) will be 1 -- Quiet
in 40 minutes, the Geomagnetic Activity level (Kp number) will be 0 -- Quiet
in 52 minutes, the Geomagnetic Activity level (Kp number) will be 0.33 -- Quiet

(Refresh this page to update the above, it is updated on the server every 2 minutes)
(Note: you can also get your own personal Aurora Alerts by text, email or phone call.)

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





REAL TIME AURORA FORECAST MAP

It’s a good idea to get confirmation of activity with NOAA's Ovation map. This map is an excellent near-term prediction tool. 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. This gives you the ability to see the near-term forecast overlaid directly on a map. Here is the most up-to-date image:

Ovation forecast model - Northern hemisphere

Important: unfortunately, the 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 is a larger, high resolution image in case you need it.)


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 40 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)


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EARTH LIGHT & MOONLIGHT POLLUTION:

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


YOUR LOCAL WEATHER:

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




LOCATION:

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). Finally, if you're not sure which way is north, don't forget to bring a compass.


THE PROBLEM WITH SEEING THE AURORA:

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. It’s not a TV show you can turn on at 8:00, or a movie you can buy a ticket for. Often Auroras happen with only 30 minutes warning.

So it's a good idea to have a vigilant partner watching out for you. Someone who will watch the Aurora data -- 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Then, when the conditions are right for your area, notify you immediately.

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


Drive safe -- and good luck!