Aurora Chasing Below the 45th Parallel
Welcome to the Digital Resource Guide, a companion piece to my new book “Below the 45th Parallel.” Use this page to get practical advice and links to tools that will help you chase — and catch — the Aurora in the mid-latitudes!
RESOURCE: The Ovation Model
The Ovation Model, which gives a visualization of the Auroral Oval as it rotates around the globe in near real-time, is one of my favorite Aurora Chasing tools. Click this link and refresh the page at any time to see the changes in Aurora activity, as they are measured at the L1 Point in outer space. These measures of hemispheric power are taken just outside of our atmosphere, indicating what we could observe within 1-2 hours on Earth.
View the Ovation Model:
RESOURCE: Space Weather Glossary
Find a comprehensive glossary of terms online thanks to the experts at the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center.
The SWPC maintains a glossary on their website, which can be found on the homepage if you scroll all the way down to the footer and click Glossary under Media & Resources.
Here is the direct link to the Glossary: https://www.swpc.noaa.gov/content/space-weather-glossary
RESOURCE: Variations in the Aurora
Discover some variations in the types of Aurora. Find interesting articles based in scientific discovery. These articles have covered some of the more distinctive variations of the aurora and sub-auroral activity. Check it out!
- The common aurora arc
- A valley of dunes
- The quintessential Aurora pillars or columns
- A glorious corona drifting down from the center of the sky
- The Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement (or sub-auroral arc) known as STEVE
- The unmistakable “picket fence” seen with STEVE
- Stable Aurora Red arcs, or SARs
Learn more about variations of the Aurora in this article from “Space.”
RESOURCE: Understanding your Latitude
This quick and easy tip can help you no matter where you are in the world, to understand your odds of catching an Aurora and what numbers to look for. The secret? Know your latitude.
The Northern Lights occur more frequently close to or above the 45th Parallel, or 45 degrees North. The Great Lakes region is uniquely position below the Auroral Oval, giving us an advantage when it comes to chasing the Aurora in the western hemisphere. When geomagnetic activity gains enough strength, the Aurora expands southward directly into the Great Lakes region, including the states of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota. Not only do we have a chance to catch Aurora all year long, but we can also find Aurora minor geomagnetic storms (which reach the 45th Parallel) and moderate geomagnetic storms (which reach the 42nd Parallel).
Understanding your latitude, or what parallel you chase at, can help you know what types of storm conditions or Aurora activity to look for, in order to catch a display.
Did you know that you can find out the parallel of any city in the world with a simple internet search? Just type in the question “What latitude is [INSERT CITY, INSERT STATE]?” On Google, for example, the exact parallel will pop up at the top of your search results. You can use this trick anywhere and any time you have internet available, to find out what your chances are based on current Aurora conditions.
RESOURCE: Find an Aurora Chasing Group
If questions arise on the night of the chase or you want to watch live Aurora sightings roll in, you can join one of many area groups devoted to Aurora Chasing. Check out these suggestions for groups that cover the U.S. and the Great Lakes Region:
- Upper Midwest Aurora Chasers
- Aurora and Night Sky Adventures
- Michigan Aurora Chasers
- Great Lakes Aurora Shooters
- North American Aurora and Star Watchers
- Northern Lights | Lake Superior Region
Let us know if you have a group you would like to suggest for this list!
RESOURCE: Aurora Forecasting for Beginners
Tap into some of the easiest and most reliable Aurora forecasting tools available on the internet. Many of these tools offer intuitive visualizations that show you where Aurora may be visible on the map. Below is a list of my favorite forecasting tools and direct links so you can find them:
- Aurora Forecast | Geophysical Institute — University of Alaska, Fairbanks
- Ovation Model, real-time still image
- Space Weather Live (More advanced with both beginner and advanced functions)
Some of these sources have additional information that can help you learn your way around the tools, forecast models and apps, if you spend some time browsing the website.
RESOURCE: Subscribe to Aurora Forecast Alerts
With the steps listed here, you can subscribe for email or text updates directly from the source, our own government forecasting agency. The 3-day forecasts from the NOAA Space Weather Forecast Center are issued in Universal Time, and there is also an easy-to-use website available for time conversions in the U.S.
You can subscribe to NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center e-mail updates here: https://www.swpc.noaa.gov/content/subscription-services
At first, signing up for these scientific alerts may seem confusing. Here’s how it’s done!
TIPS COMING SOON!
RESOURCE: Using Better Forecasting Apps
Aurora forecasting apps can be misleading, because they try to oversimplify information about the potential for Northern Lights. Any seasoned storm chaser knows that Aurora is nuanced and unpredictable. Find out what apps experienced Aurora Chasers recommend, and download an app that helps you learn as you go. Here are a few recommendations:
Space Weather Live — While this app includes many features, it also includes an icon you can click to learn about each chart and graphic. Start with the easy functions, then you can build your way up. Space Weather Live is the go-to app and website for many experienced Aurora Chasers.
Glendale App — This app is only available by going straight to the website to download the app from the web, however many experienced Aurora Chasers swear by its informative nature and its accuracy, which is hard to come by in the Aurora Chasing community!
RESOURCE: Viewing Locations
Find a dark sky park in Michigan to view the Northern Lights using this column from Michigan.org: https://www.michigan.org/article/trip-idea/most-stellar-places-stargazing-michigan
RESOURCE: Dark Sky Map
A light pollution map, or dark sky map, can help you find the areas near you that have the darkest skies. These maps usually denote areas of thick light pollution in red and orange, while identifying areas that have true dark skies in a dark color, purple or blue. Look for the cool colors on the map and zoom in to find city names or street names.
If you compare this map to a Google Map or Apple Map, side by side, you can also determine what parks, lakes and other recreational areas may be nearby.
View the Dark Site Finder: https://darksitefinder.com/maps/world.html#4/39.00/-98.00
RESOURCE: Listen to the Aurora
Is it possible to hear the Aurora? Aurora Chasers and scientists have long debated this question, but some research has shown that it is possible to hear the Northern Lights.
To listen to the Aurora, check out this article called “Recording the sound of the aurora borealis” from Sky at Night Magazine, with a recording from Aalto University in Finland.
RESOURCE: Photography Tips from “the Unphotographer”
These articles and video tutorials will help you learn what you need to know to get started in Aurora photography.
Below are a few links to get you started: