An easy guide to observing the Aurora

Sep 28, 2011 By Adrian West, Universe Today
Dundee Aurora. Credit: Ben-e-boy

With the recent solar activity and the high possibility of more coming up, here is an easy guide to observing the aurora. An aurora is a natural light display high in the Earth’s atmosphere, caused by energetic particles from the Sun, colliding with the Earth’s magnetic field.

These light displays are called the Borealis in the Northern hemisphere and Aurora Australis in the Southern hemisphere, but are commonly known as the Northern and Southern lights.

Viewing aurorae is incredibly simple, but the conditions need to be right for a display to appear.

Normally you can only see aurorae near the poles, such as in Canada, Iceland, and Norway or southern Australia and Antarctica, but when the Sun is highly active, more solar material is thrown in ’s direction, creating powerful geomagnetic storms. These storms can bring auroral displays further south to areas such as Southern UK and North to mid latitudes of the USA.

The intensity scale is known as the Planetary KP index and basically the higher the KP number the further south Aurorae can be seen, KP 8 or higher can be good for observers further south. To find out what current levels are check spaceweather.com or the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

If aurora activity is predicted to be high and there is a possibility of seeing it at your location, try and find an area away from light pollution or bright lights and let your eyes adjust to the dark. This may require you to travel into the countryside to escape bright city light pollution.

The best time to spot aurora is around local midnight, but this can change depending on viewing conditions and the current intensity of the magnetic storm.

Once you are comfortable and your eyes have adjusted to the dark, face north (or south in the Southern Hemisphere).

You do not need binoculars, a telescope, or any other optical aid other than glasses if you wear them.

Look low and close to the horizon and look for the faint green/ reddish glow of aurora. It may be quite difficult to see at first, but if it is a powerful display it can be very easy to spot.

I live in the South of the UK and have seen the waving bands and curtain like structures quite easily in powerful geomagnetic storms.

If you have a camera that takes long exposures, use a tripod and try to image the aurora and send us your results.

Most of all, enjoy the show! Good luck!

Explore further: Close encounters: Comet siding spring seen next to mars

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

The great cometary show

Jan 19, 2007

Comet McNaught, the Great Comet of 2007, is no more visible for observers in the Northern Hemisphere. It does put an impressive show in the South, however, and observers in Chile, in particular at the Paranal ...

Aurora alert: The Sun is waking up (w/ Video)

Aug 02, 2010

Sky viewers might get to enjoy some spectacular Northern Lights, or aurorae, tomorrow. After a long slumber, the Sun is waking up. Early Sunday morning, the Sun's surface erupted and blasted tons of plasma ...

Recommended for you

China launches first mission to moon and back

4 hours ago

China launched its first space mission to the moon and back early Friday, authorities said, the latest step forward for Beijing's ambitious programme to one day land a Chinese citizen on the Earth's only ...

Close encounters: Comet siding spring seen next to mars

13 hours ago

(Phys.org) —This composite NASA Hubble Space Telescope Image captures the positions of comet Siding Spring and Mars in a never-before-seen close passage of a comet by the Red Planet, which happened at 2:28 ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

omatumr
1 / 5 (3) Sep 28, 2011
With the recent solar activity and the high possibility of more coming up, here is an easy guide to observing the aurora. An aurora is a natural light display high in the Earths atmosphere, caused by energetic particles from the Sun, colliding with the Earths magnetic field.


Thank you, thank you, thank you for conveying some sense of reality about Earth's place in the cosmos: A tiny ball of dirt orbiting close to a highly variable star that sustains our very lives!

No message has greater value for a generation that has been mislead into believing that Earth's heat source is a stable H-fusion reactor in equilibrium!

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
Video summary of career (1961-2011)
http://dl.dropbox...reer.pdf