≡ Menu

Solar Storm Update: Best Times for Viewing Aurorae

Image from the Solar Dynamics Observatory of the filaments coming from the Sun's surface. Credit: NASA

The Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics released the latest information on the July 31/August 1 activity on the Sun that is just now reaching Earth. They predict we’ll have multiple opportunities for a display of the Northern Lights over the next two days. The latest word from the solar scientists is that the Sun erupted not just once, but four times. All four coronal mass ejections are headed toward Earth.

Space weather forecasts are even more challenging than regular weather forecasts, said Dr. Leon Golub, and a coronal mass ejection is like a hurricane: it’s large and fuzzy, and doesn’t always move at the same speed. Currently, the estimated arrival times are:

Wednesday, Aug. 4 – 3:00 a.m. EDT (0700 GMT on Aug. 5; aurorae not visible in daylight)
Wednesday, Aug. 4 – 1:00 p.m. EDT (1600 GMT, again the daylight issue)
Wednesday, Aug. 4 – 8:00 p.m. EDT (0000 GMT on Aug. 5)
Thursday, Aug. 5 – 2:00 a.m. EDT (0600 GMT)

Any one of these events may or may not generate an aurora. It depends on details like magnetic field orientation. If the magnetic field in the oncoming solar plasma is directed opposite Earth’s magnetic field, the result could be spectacular aurorae. If the fields line up, the coronal mass ejection could slide past our planet with nary a ripple.

The Center for Astrophysics suggested these two resources:

Map of current auroral activity

Chart of proton flux (watch for the numbers to go up as each wave arrives)

Source: Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophyics

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jon Hanford August 3, 2010, 3:20 PM

    “They predict we’ll have multiple opportunities for a display of the Northern Lights over the next two days.”

    I wish they would have gone the extra mile and mentioned the chance of auroral sightings also exists in the Southern Hemisphere. I’ve seen the same phrasing in several prominent websites and on NBC Nightly News. Just to give everyone a heads up. :)

  • VitaminT August 3, 2010, 3:42 PM

    Will NASA go ahead w/ the EVA’s in this environment?

  • hemo_jr August 3, 2010, 9:43 PM

    All four ejections are headed for Earth? Someone, somewhere has wicked aim.

  • RUF August 3, 2010, 9:49 PM

    Are these time conversions right?
    GMT is UT, right?

  • RUF August 3, 2010, 9:50 PM

    PS- my ipod shows London time, which is apparently not GMT or UT. :(

  • Drunk Vegan August 3, 2010, 11:27 PM

    Anyone know at which latitudes/geographical areas the aurora will be visible?

  • therophin August 4, 2010, 1:31 AM

    Yes! I am in Hawaii. I hope it will be visible here!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z3FGdjjythQ

  • Spork August 4, 2010, 3:19 AM

    RUF: the UK is on British Summer Time at the moment, which is GMT+1.

  • Salacious August 4, 2010, 3:51 AM

    hey guys

    Suggest you visit the site Spaceweather

    In the lefthand column is a summary of the current space weather. This gives the activity of the sun and the auroral oval (which tell “yellow” where you can expect to see aurorae.) If it cover your region, the yellow region should be observed from your location.

    Sadly, it is unlikely aurora will be seen in low- or mid-latitudes this time, as the Kp index is fairly small.

    (Aodhhan knows better on this subject, and no doubt he will do better than my obvious alleged “copy and pasting”)

  • Jon Hanford August 4, 2010, 6:44 AM

    @Salacious,

    Good call with the Spaceweather link. Also, the NOAA POES Auroral Activity page mentioned above ( http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/pmap/index.html ) lets me look at movies or stills of both the northern and southern auroral ovals. And yeah, conditions don’t look favorable for a rare auroral display way down here in central Florida.

  • Lawrence B. Crowell August 4, 2010, 7:31 AM

    I an no expert on solar mass ejections. The video I found interesting because the material appeared grey — dark in a way. If I am thinking right this ejection would appears as a bright illuminated arch if observed from a position not directly in front of it’s oncoming path. I then presume it appears dark because it is cooler than the photosphere of the sun.

    LC

  • Spoodle58 August 4, 2010, 8:52 AM

    Thanks Nancy for the heads up and thanks guys for the links.

  • IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE August 4, 2010, 9:04 AM

    LAWRENCE B. CROWELL:

    If I am thinking right this ejection would appears as a bright illuminated arch if observed from a position not directly in front of it’s oncoming path.

    Affirmative. Click here for the sideways view movie of the CME on August 1, 2010, as seen from the STEREO A (Ahead) spacecraft in orbit around the Sun.

  • jimhenson August 4, 2010, 5:08 PM

    The suns 11 year cycle will peak in 2011 or 2012, so until then expect an increase in flares and CME’s. These recently are very tiny, and will not come close to disrupting power grids. In 1997 the entire sun was covered by a CME halo, and power outages occured later. The sun is not a nova star that would make life inhospitable on earth. The CME accelerates electrons near light speed, forming a threaded magnetic field with a huge gas bubble that expands moves outwards with varying gravitational speeds until it reaches earth.

  • Aodhhan August 4, 2010, 9:14 AM

    After looking at AFWA’s models from the G2 storm, I’d say the northern areas of Wisconsin, Minn, ND, Billings, MT and Idaho (maybe as far south as Boise) have about a 40% chance of seeing aurora in the distant north sky(Don’t look for it to be directly over those areas). If we really get a good hit (5-15% chance), you may be able to see it as far south along the lines of Souix Falls, SD; Pierre SD; north of Milwaukee; Fort Dodge, IA, etc.

    To see it in places like Des Moines IA, Indianapolis IN, Omaha, NE, Southern WY and Northern CO we will need a geomag-storm in the range of G4 and G5.

  • Lawrence B. Crowell August 4, 2010, 9:35 AM

    @IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE Interesting, for that is representative of how I would have thought the CME should appear.

    The sun was silent as a mouse pissing on a blotter for several years, but now it seems to be waking up with activity.

    LC

  • RUF August 4, 2010, 10:43 AM

    Nothing to report in Cincinnati (39N lat) between 0300 – 0400 EDT on the 4th. Hopfully tonite….

  • Spoodle58 August 5, 2010, 8:42 AM

    Full cloud cover last night from 10pm GMT to 2am GMT, Ireland. Gonna have a look tonight again just in case.

  • westernflyer August 5, 2010, 8:42 AM

    I recently released an application called Solaris for Android phones – Solaris will notify you when geomagnetic storm level increases, or when the aurora might be overhead at your location (based on your phone’s GPS position). The app displays electron and proton particle flux into the upper atmosphere, projected onto a 3D Earth globe (ala “Google Earth”). Also includes UV images of the Sun from STEREO and SDO spacecraft. You can download Solaris for free from the Android Market. Also see http://www.androidzoom.com/android_applications/entertainment/solaris_gbnv.html

hide