Aurora preparations plus the oddities of daylight-saving time

Brett Grandson of Duluth took this gorgeous scene of the northern lights along Lake Superior north of Duluth this past Friday morning. Details: f6.3, 30 sec, ISO 200 with an 8mm lens. Credit: Brett Grandson

(Updated at 12:15 a.m. CST March 11: Kp index still stuck at 2. No aurora visible in Duluth, Minn. yet. The moon looks cool with its “companions” Saturn and Spica. Look for bright, red-colored Mars high up due south, the bright red star Arcturus in the east and twinkling Vega in the northeast.)

Are you ready for tonight? According to the NOAA space weather forecast, we’re still expecting a good solar storm to roll through late tonight with the potential for auroras.  Arrival time is expected around 1 a.m. CST plus or minus 7  hours. Watch for the lights anytime from dusk through tomorrow morning by checking the northern sky periodically for any activity. If you see moving rays and bright greenish arcs of light, bundle up and plan to spend a little time under the cosmos. The same sunspot group responsible for tonight’s expected storm unleashed yet another large flare (M8-class) today around 11:30 CST. Expect that coronal mass ejection from that one to arrive at Earth midday Monday March 12.

The northern U.S., Canada and northern Europe are the best locations to see auroras, but if the storm is active enough, the auroral oval will expand southward toward the central states like Illinois, Kentucky and Colorado. Very strong shocks to Earth’s magnetosphere can even bring the dancing lights as far south as Arizona. I’ll stay in touch via the blog this evening, but don’t be surprised if I’m missing-in-action for a while; it just means I’m out under the stars. Clear skies are forecast for northern Minnesota tonight.

Aurora over Boulder Lake north of Duluth, Minn. Friday morning photographed by Gage Salyards. Details: 11mm lens at f/8, ISO800 and 10" exp. Click image to see more of Gage's work. Credit: Gage Salyards

I know I’m repeating myself, but the best guides to whether the northern lights are likely to light up your life are the Kp index and the extent of the auroral oval. If the index equals 4, there’s a good chance of seeing an aurora in the northern U.S. and Canada. If it goes up to 6, auroras will likely be visible farther south into Wisconsin, Illinois, New York and the Dakotas.

The moon, Saturn and Spica will form a very nifty equilateral triangle this evening in the southeastern sky. Maps created with Stellarium

The waning gibbous moon rises around 9:30-10 p.m. tonight, so it won’t dilute those pale auroral rays to the degree it did Thursday night. Still, there’s no need to turn your back on our shiny satellite. It forms a charming little triangle with the planet Saturn and Spica in Virgo this evening. Take a few minutes to look at Saturn, 825 million miles away, through a small telescope. Those rings are the equal of any auroral display in my opinion. Spica is a very close pair of extremely luminous blue-white stars with a combined light 1900 times brighter than the sun.

A sign taped to a window I came across while on assignment yesterday. Photo: Bob King

Don’t forget that tonight-tomorrow morning we switch over to daylight-saving time (DST) in the U.S. Instead of the sky turning dark around 7-7:30 p.m. as it will tonight, it will happen at 8-8:30 p.m. on Sunday. Lots of people look forward to this “extra” daylight in the evening hours. Conversely, we lose an hour of daylight in the morning and find ourselves waking up in a slightly darker world Sunday morning.

Orion and Sirius tonight at 8 o'clock (left pane) and tomorrow night at the same time. Advancing the time an hour with DST makes the constellations appear to move backward (to the left or east) one hour.

The hour shift also causes a shift in the stars. With DST in effect, the positions of the stars at 8 p.m. tonight will be the equivalent of their positions tomorrow night at 9 p.m. Think about a second and it makes sense. 9 p.m tomorrow is really the same time as 8 p.m. tonight, when we ignore the artifice of daylight saving time.

Another way to see it is shown in the illustration above. At 8 o’clock tonight, Sirius will be west of due south and Orion off to the right and out of the slice of sky I selected. Tomorrow at the same time, Sirius will not have reached its due south point at 8 p.m. on your clock. Instead it’s still off to the east, but Orion is now back in the picture.

That extra hour of daylight time has the effect of retarding the movement of the constellations by one hour. So you’ll have to stay up an hour later to see the spring stars in the east. This might make some of you sad, but if for those who still cling to the winter stars, DST is good news.

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About astrobob

My name is Bob King and I work at the Duluth News Tribune in Duluth, Minn. as a photographer and photo editor. I'm also an amateur astronomer and have been keen on the sky since age 11. My modest credentials include membership in the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) where I'm a regular contributor, International Meteorite Collectors Assn. and Arrowhead Astronomical Society. I also teach community education astronomy classes at our local planetarium.

54 thoughts on “Aurora preparations plus the oddities of daylight-saving time

  1. Bob,
    I am green like an aurora with envy!
    Just clouds here, no lights. But maybe we’ll get a break tonite.
    Happy skywatching!
    Liz

  2. I am so glad I happened across your blog! Not only for the current aurora information (my husband and I, located in Muskegon, MI, keep trying to “chase” it but, I think we still might be too far south for anything measurable in one night’s drive-oh, well), but…looking at ALL your sky chat – tremendous! I’m definitely not a trained or learned observer, and have just a personal interest – and an older telescope that I need to track down directions how to use since my new computer can’t read the old CD manual – however, you have such great info; I can do some sky-watching vicariously through your site, here, until I can figure out how my stuff works; again, thanks for being here! : )

    • Lissafaith,
      Such kind words – thank you! I’m delighted you enjoy the blog and find it useful. If you can think of other ways I can add to or improve it, please let me know. Good luck on the scope. Saturn’s arrival in the evening sky might be motivation to get it set up.

  3. Hi Bob,
    Ive been wanting to see the aurora for years..your website gives me hope that i actually might see it…drove last night from the twin cities to Duluth and was at Brighton beach ..but it was tooo cloudy..we got a good sunrise though…we r planning to drive north upto Forest lake tonight..could you recommend a good spot there??

    Thanks again for sharing your knowledge & experience.

    • Pallavi,
      Forest Lake’s a good place but I’m not familiar with the back roads there. Just pull off the freeway and drive north of town to a road with a good view of the northern sky with little traffic. Just so you know, the aurora may not come till very late – midnight or later.

  4. Hey Bob,
    Please keep us updated on the cloud/visiblity for tonight… I see that the forcast calls for partly to mostly cloudy.

    Also, do you know if NOAA has posted an official aurora prediction yet… about what time the aurora will start? I know that the original prediction was for things to arrive around 1 am tonight.

    • John,
      I just updated the blog with that time (+ or -) and news of another storm-producing flare on its way. The forecast for Duluth and northeastern Minn. is for mostly clear skies tonight. At the moment there are a few cirrus clouds, otherwise clear.

    • Irene,
      There is no aurora yet, so nothing right now except a beautiful display of planets – Venus and Jupiter – in the fading twilight in the western sky.

  5. Hi Bob,

    Finally a clear night in Moorhead. Venus and Jupiter are absolutely brilliant. Mars in the east is nice too (at least, I think that’s Mars). There are a few clouds to the north and the moon should be making its appearance soon, so here’s hoping we can see some lights tonight.

    Travis

  6. Thanks for the most informative blog–following you in Thunder Bay, ON. Venus and Jupiter are spectacular in the Western sky tight now. Eager to find out what else we might see tonight!

    • Laurie,
      Look well up in the eastern sky and you’ll see a bright reddish star – that’s the planet Mars. It’s the closest it’s been to Earth in about two years. We’re clear in Duluth and waiting for aurora. None yet at of 8:30.

  7. I’m getting mixed info on the auroras tonight? Do u think they’ll make it this far. We are just below the line of 5 on the kp maybe closer to 6. What do u think?

    • Irene,
      You’re so close to being in a dark place with a good northern sky – Twig for example – that you might want to wait and see first if there’s any activity before leaving. Nothing is happening just yet as of 11 p.m.

  8. We are in the car heading north hoping to see the northern lights. We are almost to hinkley. My fiancé thinks we should keep going but I think we have gone far enough and tonight might night be the night. What do you think?
    We have loved your blog the last few days!

    • Samara,
      Tonight might be the night, but for all we know, nothing may happen until 4 or 5 or god forbid 7 a.m. As of midnight, it’s mostly clear here in Duluth, the moon looks great with Saturn and Spica, but there is no aurora. I’m planning on setting the alarm and getting up for a look around 4.

  9. I’m in a group of 3 photog ladies heading from the twin cities to Duluth right now, came across your blog. Great info!! We hope to see a cool light show, but if not, its still a fun late night road trip :) Keep us posted on anything new! I bookmarked this blog :)

    • That’s great Heidi. I hope things turn out for your group. If you decide to keep traveling, don’t miss the nice sight of the moon and right above it Saturn (on the left) and the star Spica. They make a cool triangle right now.

  10. Thanks for the realtime updates. Really helps us “southerners” (Morris, MN) know what to expect. Saw hints of a curtain low in the North on Thurs night around midnight from here. Nothing this evening (yet?). Hoping for clear skies and a good storm earlier in the evening on Monday!

  11. Hi everyone! I just stumbled acrooss this blog.. its nice to see I’m not the only one hanging out with hopes to see some Northern Lights tonight. I’m parked next to a lake in Linnwood, MN.

  12. Hi bob I’m a little curious about this whole solar flare thing and before I even google it and get all upset I come to u lol and will it realy be that bad for earth ? And does it effect our weather and does the solar storm make it worse? I just rather ask u than google like I said lol thanks again bob

  13. Hi Bob, I am so glad i found your blog & get regular up-to-date updates on the chances of aurora & the planets!!! Yesterday, as per your description abt seeing Saturn & Spica, both my husband & myself were able to identify them. We are total rookies & not even beginner amateurs. I have got obsessed with seeing the aurora in the past few weeks & have been trying to deduce the jargon, so to speak. We live near Toronto, but can drive 5 hrs north to Sudbury, which seems to be on the same magnetic latitude as Duluth to see the aurora. I have bookmarked your blog & keep chking it every so often for updates & predictions. Also i chk the softserve wesite, gi.alaska, space weather & others for updates, but your location is the closest to our latitude & so i think it would be closest to what i can expect to see. Am i right? Do share any pointers you could for us.
    Thanks

    • Chintan,
      It sounds to me like you’re getting the information you need. If you have an question about astronomy, feel free to ask in the Comments. I’ll do my best to respond.

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