Northern Lights

Here in central North Dakota, we’re blessed with the opportunity to witness some fabulous auroral activity overhead. Since I first started doing this photography thang, the toolset for chasing the Northern Lights has evolved significantly.  Here are the resources I use now:

First, I subscribe to free email alerts from NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC).  Sign up for a free account here and then use the Subscribe link to add the items for which you want to be emailed.   I use the Geomagnetic Storm Products to determine when the atmosphere is – or will be – likely to produce auroras.  I subscribe to pretty much every alert in that list of available products, aside from the Kp=4.  I use Kp=5 to let me know things are starting to cook, but I won’t even head out if we don’t have at least a Kp value of 6.  That’s not the only number to watch, however.

The one-stop-shop you can use for aurora prediction is Space Weather Live.  This really is the gold standard.  They’ve got all the data you need.  Even better, they also have an app.  (Android lusers, you can get it here.) 

Remember how I said the Kp is not the only value to watch?  It is actually a number which looks back in time over the past three hours.  It’s okay for prediction, but it’s not much of a real-time value.  I combine the current Kp value with the value of the Bz from Space Weather Live to determine if we’re likely to see auroras.  If the Interplanetary Magnetic Field (Bz) is oriented south we are more likely to see the lights, and the further it deviates from zero the better.  This is perhaps the single most important metric I’ve found to date.  I’ve gone out multiple times when we have a high Kp value, and seen nothing.  But when the Bz is oriented south, I’ve seen lights on nights when it was otherwise improbable.

Another really cool site – not so much a tool is Space Weather dot com. Useful for articles and galleries, it’s a must-have.

Below is the NOAA’s “Ovation” model (this is an embedded image and will auto-update as long as the link works).

I’ve had a variety of Northern Lights experiences since I got my camera several years ago. You can check out the Northern Lights category on this blog to see the results of those experiences.

Good luck, and maybe I’ll see you out there!