Northern Lights Hunting for Dummies (Nerds) 102 - predicting solar activity
So you decided to go out on your own and you have found a clear sky, you can see stars but no Aurora. This is when hopelessness starts to sink in and you start thinking about what you are doing wrong.
If you would ask my grandmother she would tell you that the lights only turn on when the elves are making babies, in that case you can just play some Barry White to get them in to the mood. If thats still not working you should read on.
worry not, read this and you will be able to predict the coming of the aurora just as good as any veteran guide.
Since 2015 we have been learning more and more about the solar activity after the launch of the DSCVR satellite located in a geostationary orbit between the earth and the sun. The data it (and others) collects enables us to see an hour in to the future. This is the only reliable source of real data about the expected auroral activity. The KP is another but it is a forecast based on visual observations of sunspots in the sun and previus activity and is not as accurate as the data that measures the solar wind speed, density and the Interplanitary Magnetic Field - IMF.
Now in this post we will dive a bit deeper in to reading the charts and the hunt for the Aurora once you have mastered the art of reading the cloud forecast and are seeing clear skies.
There are three basic factors that when they are working together we can be pretty sure the lights will turn on. (however like everything related to the auroras nothing is a hundred percent)
The website i´ll be using, (my favorite), is www.spaceweatherlive.com
We will start with Solar wind speed and Density:
Now this picture shows the wind speed and density at the time of making this article.
The gray line shows the conditions on earth and then we can see about an hour in to the future.
The time we see in to the future is relative to the speed of the solar winds - faster winds = less time to reach the planet.
In my experience, if the solar wind is above 350 km/s and density is over 3 p/cm3, we will be seeing the lights if the IMF is right. The lights however will be faint and will be seen over the horizon to the north. As the Aurora gets stronger it will rise higher in to the sky and on nights with solar winds going over 500 km/s and density over 10 we will have the lights right over our heads.
Now to the IMF:
You should envision the IMF as a door. When the chart goes red, (south or negative), an opening in the magnetic field allows more of the charged particles coming in from the sun to enter the atmosphere.
In this chart you can see a dip at around 09:30, if I were out and I would see this change I would be confident that lights would start given that the solar wind speed was above 350 km/s and density above 2-3.
A dip below -3 -4 is usually enough for some lights to start glowing.
As one last tidbit of information, you should keep your eyes on the Leirvogur Magnetic Observatory:
Now this looks like an earthquake monitoring system and we are indeed waiting for earthquakes. We can see some nice movement at 23:00 and that´s also when the lights were glowing last night.
We can also see a tiny earthquake at the same time we saw a dip in the IMF in the chart above.
This however is not a guide in to the future but only showing us the current status. If you are staying in a hotel and you want to wait inside, I would advice you to keep refreshing this until you see an "Earthquake".
I hope this helps you on your journey and I wish you happy and bountiful hunts of the Aurora.
If you want to go out with me on a northern lights tour, you can book on the website. If you have any questions or want to try a multi day hunt, reach out and send me your contact info on the website.