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.
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.
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.