More Auroras On Tap For Tonight? We Prognosticate

A gorgeous fisheye view of the aurora borealis photographed from Sand River over Lake Superior from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula this morning between 3 and 4 a.m. Credit: Shawn Malone

Last night’s auroras were very good before 1 a.m. Central time, but they got even better between 2 and 3. So I’m told. It’s too bad we need sleep or so many more of us would have seen the peak of this spectacular geomagnetic storm. What’s a sky watcher to do?

The Kp index shot to “5” and higher into the red zone starting early yesterday evening. It was still high very early this afternoon, giving hope the aurora may show for a second night in a row. Credit: NOAA

The Kp-index, an indicator of magnetic activity associated with the northern lights, has continued to ding the bell at “5” (minor storm) and higher all day long. As of noon CST Earth was still experiencing a G2 or moderate geomagetic storm. Typical effects include shortwave radio fadeouts, extra drag on orbiting satellites and auroras as far south as New York and Idaho. When the index updated around 1 p.m. activity was beginning to subside.

The waning gibbous moon rises over Lake Superior and the eastern end of Duluth, Minn. last night. Credit: Bob King

As any of you who’ve read this blog before know, the northern lights can be very fickle. Will we see them again tonight? I’ll only say that there might still be potential after-affects from the whoosh of solar plasma that whacked our planet’s magnetosphere yesterday. Certainly if it’s clear, go out and check. I’ll also be monitoring them from the aurora situation room here in Duluth, Minn.

The moon this morning around 12:30 a.m. in the company of Spica (lower left of moon) and Mars. Although a beauty scene by itself, moonlight watered-down the aurora’s intensity. Credit: Bob King

Oddly, the NOAA space weather forecast hasn’t been updated since yesterday afternoon when “all quiet” was the call for last night. Tonight the moon will rise around 11 p.m. allowing more time for dark skies.

Aurora around 10:30 p.m. last night Feb. 18, 2014 hours before it kicked it up a few notches. Credit: Bob King

If you live in a city with light pollution all around, drive north – that’s where the aurora does most of its dancing. Before you go, check back here for an update to make sure it’s worth your while.

Lovely multiple, active auroral arcs and rays seen from Cloquet, Minn. around 2 a.m. this morning. The colors are caused by excitation and emission of red and green from oxygen atoms some 80 miles overhead. Credit: Matthew Moses

UPDATE 8:30 p.m. CST Feb. 19: No auroral alerts. Quiet night so far with K index = 3.

8 Responses

  1. Kelly

    Re: Your comment on driving north of the city for the best views – I found that interesting because I’m one who lives in a south-of-the-city suburb. While that is better for most observations in the northern hemisphere than the alternative (since the objects most adversely affected along the northern horizon would be better observed at a different time of night/year when they’re higher anyway, and a good southern horizon maximizes how far south you can observe), like you said auroras are a notable exception!

    1. astrobob

      You’re right Kelly. Auroras are the exception. I always recommend a dark south direction for just about everything else out there.

  2. Bob, we saw the aurora last night from our home in Montana on the Front Range of the Rockies. Faint blue about midnight and I suspect it got better after I went to bed. I appreciate your enthusiasm and updates. Will let you know if we have any activity later. Paul

    1. astrobob

      It’s cloudy in Duluth but it appears the aurora may be out in the northern U.S. Was just going to update.

  3. Martin

    If the NOAA Spaceweather forecast lets you down, you can always check for Aurora activity and get timely alerts by using the SolarisAlpha app for Android. It has been giving off Alerts since yesterday and is also forecasting more Activity for today. Unfortunately I live to far south (The Netherlands) to be able to see the Aurora myself so I am counting on you to Photograph (or even better make a time-lapse video of it) and put it up on Bobs Blog (if he allows that).

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