If you don’t already live in a northern region, you may be planning a trip to see the elusive Aurora dancing in the night. If you are interested in searching out and seeing or capturing the Aurora then here are some helpful tips to give your search a better chance for success!
In the Know – Knowing the science behind the Aurora, or Northern Lights does help to narrow down predictions but for beginners, the science and data can be overwhelming. So instead of becoming an expert overnight, there are plenty of apps and websites that show the data in a more user friendly format. Going directly to the Space Weather Prediction Center is a trusted source of information. You can also sign up for notifications by email or through various apps that will let you know when the Aurora hits storm levels. Another option is to join facebook groups or follow pages online that are made up of other Aurora Hunters out searching and notifying others. When there is strong solar activity, aurora can be predicted in advance, but of course these are loose predictions and never a guarantee.
Weather & Cloud Cover– Before I even check the current Aurora forecast, I look at the weather and cloud cover. If there is heavy cloud or thick fog, event the brightest Aurora show will be covered up. So it’s a good idea to check the current and future weather forecast for the area you will be in. I use an app called MeteoEarth to watch the incoming cloud cover for the night.
Selecting a Vantage Point – When you are in the northern most areas, the Aurora can be seen overhead and fill the sky in every direction. I live in central Saskatchewan Canada, so for me the lights are often toward the northern horizon, when the storm picks up the lights start to push south and can even fill the entire sky here at a latitude near 52° N. You don’t need to be in the extreme north to see the lights! When you head out, make sure you have a clear view to the north, as far away from light pollution as possible. Also keep in mind it can take 20 minutes for your eyes to really adjust to darkness.
Timing- There are a lot of different factors that have to come together for an Aurora show to be bright, vibrant and last all night. Solar Activity is the root to Aurora, and there are cycles of activity that can cause Aurora to be more frequent. It doesn’t happen all the time and planning for it is next to impossible between the weather forecast and solar activity. Sometimes it can come down to pure luck and being in the right place at the right time! Aurora varies in brightness from a slight haze to vibrant bright colorful lights, they change constantly and can come in and out. To increase your odds of seeing a show, winter is the best because of the long hour of darkness and during the fall and spring equinox the Aurora can be more active, as the Earth’s magnetic field changes. In Saskatchewan we are fortunate to be located in a perfect spot that we get enough darkness in the middle of summer that the lights can be visible anytime of year!
I hope you found these tips helpful in planning your next Aurora Hunting adventure! If you are interested in photography, here are some Tips for Night Photography to get you going! Happy Hunting!