Tonight’s Aurora Is On Schedule … So Far

This is the forecast showing the extent of the auroral oval around 5:22 p.m. Central Time this afternoon. The most expansive section of the oval sits at 2 o’clock (upper right). That part will sag over southern Canada and perhaps the northern U.S. around 1 a.m. local time tomorrow morning. If you are under or even some distance south of its edge, you will see the aurora. Right now, the view from Iceland must be amazing. Click the image to see the current oval. NOAA

Things are heating up! The Kp index indicates a minor geomagnetic storm already underway as of 5 p.m. Central Time. Were it night here in northern Minnesota I’m sure we’d be greeted with a throbbing green arc draped over the northern horizon. Let’s hope the action continues into the night. The current forecast still calls for a moderate G2 geomagnetic storm which usually means northern lights visible as far south as the Midwestern states. Skywatchers in Iceland, northern Scotland and Scandinavia should be seeing activity right now.

The Kp index, a guide to magnetic activity high in Earth’s atmosphere, hit 5 around 4 p.m. Central Time today. A “5” indicates minor storm conditions. Kp indices are updated every 3 hours. Click the image to see the current one. NOAA

Should the forecast hold we would expect a nice show from about 10 p.m. tonight to 4 a.m. tomorrow (Saturday) morning. Check mid-evening and before you go to bed. And if you’re really determined, set the alarm to wake up around 2-3 a.m. Remember that an arc can “slumber” for a half-hour or longer and then suddenly brightens and grow shark-teeth rays. The best viewing spots for northern lights are locations with a panoramic view of the northern sky and no moderate to large cities to the north of the location. Spill from light pollution can easily mask the aurora.

Without warning a “quiet” arc can break up into a series of westward-moving rays as happened in this earlier aurora. It’s an exciting sight that will get your adrenaline going. Bob King

Patience is the most important tool in seeing the light show followed by a dark sky and ample time for your eyes to adjust to the darkness. The better dark-adapted they are the more subtle changes you’ll notice in the display. Anytime an arc near the horizons begins to brighten or a second arc develops, stick around. Those are good signs activity is picking up.

Finally, be prepared to see nothing. It can always happen. That’s why I often bring a telescope or at least a pair of binoculars along to enjoy other night-sky sights. A camera can also be your friend. You can while away the time taking scenes of the stars and Milky Way. A digital SLR is best and of course a tripod.

Alright, let’s see how this plays out.

2 Responses

  1. Took a peek out at 2am EDT here just north of NYC.
    Deck of clouds covering one-third of the northern sky, from the horizon up.
    Was predicted by the Canadian Clear Sky Chart to be clear every hour except 2am. 🙁
    But 2 is when I woke up. I have a street light in that direction, so it would have been hard to see unless it was a major storm, but worth the attempt. Pleiades were shining almost overhead.

    bob kelly
    (The Best Astronomy Club This Side of the Oort Cloud.)

    1. astrobob

      Hi Bob,
      That is unfortunate because all the aurora was happening behind that deck! It was best here from 1:15 to around 2 a.m. (or later).

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