Things To See While Waiting For The Storm To Hit

A very thin moon only a day and a half past new appears in the southwestern sky shortly after sunset this evening. Created with Stellarium

* UPDATE 10:30 p.m. CST: The Kp index, which measures magnetic activity and the potential for auroras, reached storm levels of 5 this afternoon but has since dropped to an “active” but non-storm level of 3 for the past six hours. Earlier, auroras flickered over Scotland, northern Ireland, Scandinavia and the Arctic regions. For now, they appear to have moved further north into Canada. I’ve heard of no sightings YET from the northern U.S. Let us know what you see. Thanks!

While we’re waiting for the hoped-for light storm, let’s look ahead to things we can see and predict with certainty. Tonight for instance, you can stand outside and face southwest a half hour after sunset to see a temptingly delicate crescent moon in the west below Venus. It’ll be so thin that in bright twilight, it’s barely there. By tomorrow night the 25th, watch for the moon to thicken a bit and brighten further as it scooches up next to Venus.

Comet Garradd shows a pale green coma and two tails in this photo taken on January 16. Ion tail to the upper right (n.west) and dust tail (east). Credit: Erik Bryssinck

Remember Comet Garradd from last summer and fall? With the staying power of a marathon runner, it’s returned to the morning sky still clicking through the stars of Hercules the Strongman. No moon will spoil the darkness for the next 10 nights, so you may want to go out for a look.

Garradd will be easy to pinpoint thanks to some handy guide stars, and at magnitude 6.5-7 it’s bright enough to see in binoculars. A few mornings ago the comet was a small ball of glowing fuzz in 8×40 binoculars, while a look through my 15-inch scope made my eyeballs smile. At low power, the pale green coma with two soft, diffuse tails sticking out either end was a beautiful sight. I figured it was time to share.

Find Vega and then use the star Gamma in Draco and draw an imaginary equilateral triangle that includes Comet Garradd. The map shows the sky facing east around 5 a.m. local time.

The best time to observe Comet Garradd is when Hercules is highest in the east before the start of dawn or around 5-5:30 a.m. You can start by finding the bright star Vega of Summer Triangle fame in the east-northeast. From there, navigate up to the trapezoidal pattern of stars nicknamed the “Keystone” of Hercules. One side of the Keystone features the sumptuous globular cluster M13. The comet lies along the other side and moves slowly northward in the coming weeks. Let us know if you have success in seeing it.

Use this detailed chart to pick your way to the comet with binoculars and telescope. Star shown to 7th magnitude. Positions are at 5 a.m. Central time every five days. Created with Chris Mariott's SkyMap software

34 Responses

  1. ron bergh

    I was looking south about 7pm a few days ago and I was amazed at the bright planets in the night sky—wondering what they were—-about 4 —-all very bright. They seemed to give off green color mid point and red at the bottom—-could it be just my eyes?

    1. astrobob

      Hi Ron,
      There are currently two bright planets in the night (evening ) sky. Venus in the west in twilight and Jupiter high in the southwest as soon as it gets dark. Mars comes up low in the east around 10 p.m. and Saturn is due south around 5 a.m. So yes, there are four altogether, but they’re spread out across evening and morning sky.

  2. the younger Mrs. America

    Please let the clouds part, I haven’t seen an aurora in a few years, down here on the 45th parallel.
    I could use the cosmic energy!

  3. Kylie smiley

    Will I be able to see the Aurora in Chicago? I live on the northside as far east and as far north as you can get in Chicago right on lake michigan

    1. astrobob

      Hi Kylie,
      That sounds like a pretty good location for the Chicago-area. The main thing is how extensive the auroras will be, and no one can say for sure how far and wide they might be visible. It’s possible only the northern U.S. will see a display in which case any aurora would be below or right at your horizon. I’ll be watching here in Duluth, where it’s cloudy right now, but clearing is expected for a time in the early morning. I’ll also be updating the blog in an hour or so. Good luck!

      1. Kylie smiley

        I will keep looking here in Chicago will take pics on my iPhone if or when I see anything… I will keep u posted! Thanks for your time BOB.. πŸ™‚ smiley

  4. Laurie K.

    Hi Bob,

    Any idea about what time I should head out to look for the lights in the Two Harbors area?


  5. Karleigh

    I live near niagara falls can I expect to see anything here? If so What are the best times can i expect to?

    1. astrobob

      Since you’re located in northern U.S / S.Canada region, you have a better chance than many to see the lights. First, you’ll need a reasonably dark sky and a good view to the north. Then you’ll need to hope that the auroral activity, which has ebbed since the afternoon, will flare back up. This can certainly happen, but no one can say exactly when. What I usually do is stick my head out the door every half hour to check. Also take a look at the real-time auroral oval at
      If the “donut” you see is red and either over or near your site, there’s an excellent chance aurora is out.

  6. Anthony

    hey bob,
    I live in philadelphia and was really excited when I was the KP index was at a 5 earlier today. Now that it is only 3, is there still a chance I will see them tonight?

  7. Ami

    I’m in Kitchener and I have a friend from Wellesley ON. (a small town about 20mins away) checking in with me…nothing yet πŸ™ Am I right in thinking our best chance now will be around midnight here? I’m dying to take some photos of it πŸ™‚

    1. astrobob

      Hi Mike,
      We’re still overcast here in Duluth. The storm appears to be on the decline for the time being. Let’s hope the show’s not completely over.

  8. Ami

    Not sure if this is a faux pas but I came across this great google map where the news has asked people that see an event to mark it. Thought you Bob as well as others would find it interesting. I also wanted to say thank you for putting all this together and your time invested in it. I’m sure I’m not the only one to say its REALLY appreciated!! Thaaank youuu,-98.613281&spn=58.579403,165.058594

    1. astrobob

      Northern Mich. is a great location for aurora watching, but the storm is currently “taking a break”. If it’s clear, keep checking. As of 10:30 CST, the aurora has pulled back up north into the Canadian Arctic.

  9. Stephen Plourd

    When I got home from work about 5-6:00 PM the KP index was 6.78……only problem was….clouds. Now it is clearing and we have a crisp clear rest of the night in store….I think…and now it is a 3. Bummed. Will keep you posted! I am located in central NH, at 52 magnetic latitude. My wife would DIE to see one – hoping she gets that chance…neither of us have seen one. Whats the forecast looking like for the rest of the evening AstroBob?! I have heard chances may increase around midnight local time. I also went to that website you referred to and it seemed like it was saying around 3AM it may flare up – I’m still new to this.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Stephen,
      Local midnight is usually the best time for the aurora but that can vary. That’s why I check every half hour. Unfortunately we’re still clouded out here in Duluth, Minn. Based on the Kp in the past 6 hours, it appears the storm is subsiding … for now.

  10. les

    Read this in yahoo…

    with good viewing.

    It was part of the strongest solar storm in years, but the sun is likely to get even more active in the next few months and years, said physicist Doug Biesecker at the U.S. Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado.

    “To me this was a wake up call. The sun is reminding us that solar max is approaching,” Biesecker said. “A lot worse is in store for us. We hope that you guys are paying attention. I would say we passed with flying colors.”

    He says alot worse is in store for us……what does he mean? Doesnt sound very comforting….

    1. astrobob

      He’s referring to larger flares to come. This one passed without any real problems, but more are expected — as they always are during the increase in solar activity leading up to solar maximum. That happens in 2013. These cycles, each about 11 years long and featuring occasional large flares, have been going on for at centuries. We’re more vulnerable now than 100 or 200 years ago, because we depend more on satellites, air transportation and steady electric power than we ever have, and those aspects of life are affected in varying degrees by what happens on the sun.

  11. Lynn

    Hi Bob

    I was just wondering if the recents solar storms which hit earths magnetic field could be causing all the weird sounds that people are hearing and I seen someone wrote and asked you about the noises, just a thought but is it possible, also I wanted to say that I loved the choice of song you and your wife had on your wedding day my grandfather used to sing that when i was younger and it brought back lovely memories.

    Thanks again Bob for all your postings i’m still learnig as i go along lol.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Lynn,
      Thanks for sharing your memory of the song. Music is like that – it’s a way of connecting and remembering. As for the sounds, I don’t think they’re linked. Solar storms like thunderstorms come and go, but the sounds – or whatever they are – seem to be heard at all different times whether or not there’s a storm.

  12. Mike

    Very weak display partially obscurred by clouds at 4 am in NW MN. Sigh. However! It was great to see moon, planets and stars again after so many cloudy nights.

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