General Question

LeopardGecko's avatar

What site predicts when I can see the Northern Lights?

Asked by LeopardGecko (1232 points ) December 25th, 2009

From Edmonton Alberta, Canada.

Why do the northern lights appear?

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18 Answers

Jewel's avatar

My guess would be NASA.

gailcalled's avatar

Check with the U. of Alberta’s physics or astronomy dept. See whether they have a web page or RSS feed that notifies the public.

Aurora Borealis: The short version;

“Auroras are the result of the emissions of photons in the Earth’s upper atmosphere, above 80 km (50 miles), from ionized nitrogen atoms regaining an electron, and oxygen and nitrogen atoms returning from an excited state to ground state. They are ionized or excited by the collision of solar wind particles being funneled down and accelerated along the Earth’s magnetic field lines; excitation energy is lost by the emission of a photon of light, or by collision with another atom or molecule:”

The long version: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aurora_(astronomy)

And here is a wonderful site where you can ask questions and check in for predictions.
http://www.pfrr.alaska.edu/aurora/index.html

And this for activity sighting: (Last week there were none.)

http://www.spacew.com/www/auroras.php

Futomara's avatar

In laymen terms, particles in the upper atmosphere are bombarded by the energy from solar winds which then produce light particles (photons). Google ‘space weather’ too.

ETpro's avatar

Great question. I have only seen them once, when living in St. Paul, Minnesots. That night, I was with my son and a bunch of his friends helping them move someone’s stuff. We finished up around midnight and were out away from the city lights. One of us glanced up, and noticed that something seemed to be wrong with the sky. It just looked strange at first, as if the Milky Way had moved out of its normal position. WHen the Milky Way began to move before our eyes. it drew closer attention. Then colors began to shoot in and curtains of light began to unfold and wave across the night skys. We had never before witnesses anything remotely as grand. It was four in the morning on one very cold night before we got up off our backs lying on the cold ground watching the heavenly light show.

Here are a couple of links you may find useful in knowing when to look for the aurora. The first is primarily for Alaska, but has some good resources for the rest of North America as well. It does include a link to email alerts. The second covers all of the world.

http://www.gedds.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast/
http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/Aurora/.

gailcalled's avatar

@Futomara:I thought I just gave the same definition? No?

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

@gailcalled references are very good. I’ve had the priviledge of seeing both the Aurora Borealis (from Fairbanks, AK) and the Aurora Australis (from Amundsen-Scott Station). The Northern version are much more colorful, vivid and active. Has anyone ever come up with at good explanation why? Scott noted this in his journals over a century ago, so it is not a recent phenomenon.

gailcalled's avatar

The Wickipedia link I mentioned explains the physics and atmospheric phenomena in almost too much detail. Get out your old physics texts.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aurora_(astronomy)

I saw them once here ( N. Lat. c.42.5˚) and it was pretty but not spectacular. The sky was very red and orange and looked like a sunset, but in the north. It lasted about 15 minutes.

But still, it rounded out my wish list. I have seen a total eclipse of the sun, moon, two bright and long-lasting comets, the most amazing meteor shower possible (Leonids in Nov.2001 – over 100/per minute) and a mild view of the aurorae. And I finally spotted the globular clusters in Hercules with my binocs and in peripheral vision with naked eye.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

We can sometimes see the Aurora Borealis in northern New England, maybe every 5–6 years or so. In northern Quebec they are a regular occurance.

ETpro's avatar

I’m in Boston now. Far enough North to occasionally see them, but they would have to be spectacularly brilliant to be vissible with all the city’s light polution. But if they are ever expected to be seen this far south, I will catch the train North to get a view from countryside in Northern Maine. They are definitely worth the travel.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

@ETpro Got a small show a few weeks ago in central Maine.

gailcalled's avatar

@stranger_in_a_strange_land: Where? What time of night? How dramatic? Dark skies and good seeing? Lucky you.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

First week of December, rather faint. There is no light pollution where I live (nearest neighbor is 5 miles away). About 2300–0300 for several days.. I’m no meteorologist, but I think it has some correlation with sunspot activity.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

@stranger_in_a_strange_land You are absolutely correct. There is a causal relationship between sunspots and the intensity of the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) and the Aurora Austrialis (Southern Lights.)

ETpro's avatar

@stranger_in_a_strange_land Maybe I can come up and visit you the next time the Solar Winds are blowing favorably. :-)

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

@ETpro Love to have you. I’m about 4 hours north of Boston (once you get off the Spaulding Turnpike, it’s all back roads)

ETpro's avatar

@stranger_in_a_strange_land Why thanks. I was just kidding, but that is very kind of you. I just may take you up on that offer if there is a scheduled display and I can organize a way to get there.

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