The northern lights (or southern lights if you are in the southern hemisphere) are wonderful and unforgettable wonder of nature. I saw my first aurora through my bedroom window in the late 1990's. A bright green band was dancing across the northern sky. I also had the pleasure to witness the famous geomagnetic storm in early November 2004, with the aurora right overhead, covering the entire sky - seen from my driveway in the suburbs! I have become addicted and longed to see them again, but it would be another 11 years before I see it again. Then one lucky evening of March 17, 2015 delivered me quite a show just north of home! Throughout 2015, I have been fortunate enough to witness the aurora borealis several times.

Aurora seen near Listowel, Ontario on St. Patrick's Day, 2015! G2 geomagnetic storm Teviotdale, Ontario early November 7, 2015

Here are some images and data that may be helpful so that you also get a chance to witness this amazing light show. Remember, to the eye, the aurora does not usually appear as bright vivid colours (unless it is really intense), but in either white or pastel greens, blues, or reds. This is because of how the human eye functions in the dark - it all has to do with the eye's cons and rods. The reason the camera picks up all the colour is because it has a higher dynamic range. The best times to view the aurora are when it is darkest out (usually around 10pm till 3am). Little to no moon is also best as a bright full moon will wash out the aurora. Mostly clear skies are also a must, but this can be difficult for the Great Lakes region during the cold months. In order to view the aurora in southern Ontario, the kp should be at 4 or higher (kp 4 will be low in the northern horizon, while a max. of kp 9 may have aurora overhead).

How to photograph the aurora (general guidelines only):

- Remember to dress appropriately for the weather!
- A sturdy tripod is a must, as you will be taking long exposures in the dark.
- Charge your batteries and always have a spare!
- Make sure you have enough room on your memory card and keep another one on hand! Once a good show gets going, you could end up with 100's of images.
- Bring some snacks. You might be waiting a while before the aurora shows up.
- Get far enough away from light pollution (if you can't see the Milky Way, it is probably too bright) and check for clear skies and the weather forecast! Refer to Dark Sky Finder to see which locations are dark.
- Check the aurora conditions like the ones on this page. If the magnetic field (bz or IMF) remains south (negative) for a length of time and is strong, there may be a chance of aurora.
- The kp index is based on your location. A kp of 9 will bring the aurora closer to the equator.
- The faster the solar wind speeds, the better its effects will be seen on Earth.
- Sometimes at night, fog may become an issue and dew may form on the lens. I recommend keeping a lint free lens cleaning cloth with you to wipe away any dew. Make sure moisture does not get inside your camera. Lens heaters may come in handy.
- You will need a manual DSLR (full frame is the best for minimal noise, but crop sensor cameras like mine will capture the lights just fine).
- Choose a fast lens (the lower the f stop, the faster the lens to allow more light in).
- A wide angle lens will allow you to cover more of the sky; it depends what you are after (i.e. a 10mm lens offers the widest field of view, while a 24mm lens offers a narrow field of view).
- Set your camera's exposure time to about 25 seconds (this is approx. the amount of exposure time you have before the stars start to leave trails with most cameras).
- Set your aperture (usually around f/2 to f/4 depending on the lens).
- I highly recommend using a remote cable release so that you do not risk shaking your camera while pressing down the shutter button.
- Focus your lens to infinity (depending on the lens, you may need to go slightly off the infinity mark to achieve true sharpness). I suggest focusing on a distant light source (or focus during the day) and securing your focus ring with a piece of tape so that it doesn't accidently change on you.
- Adjust your ISO (This will require experimentation on your part. Start with 400; if the lights are not showing up, keep going higher (or increase exposure time) until they appear in your photo. I usually use around ISO 800-1600 depending on brightness and how far away the aurora is. The key is to keep doing practice shots until you get what you desire. Note that the higher the ISO, the grainier the photo will be.)
- Choose an interesting foreground to make your composition more pleasing. If you are spinning steel wool, please be careful.
- Keep a flashlight on you. Do not venture too far from your vehicle in case you need hide from wild animals or bad weather. Try to remain alert if you are up most of the night as you want to get home safely.
- Remember safety is first priority! Do not go in areas that seem unsafe. Use common sense. You are in the dark after all, so you may not be able to see any danger (i.e. a pack of coyotes approaching you or at the edge of a cliff).

All data courtesy of NOAA and NASA unless otherwise stated. This page will automatically refresh every 60 seconds. Click on the image to enlarge in a separate window.

 

Latest 30 Minute Forecast - Northern
Latest 30 Minute Forecast - Southern

 

Planetary K Index

 

Alerts & Warnings

 

2 Hour Solar Wind

 

6 Hour Solar Wind

 

24 Hour Solar Wind

 

3 Day Solar Wind

 

GOES Magnetometer

 

GOES X-Ray Flux

 

Global D-Layer Absorption

 

Solar X-Ray Flux, Proton Flux & Geomagnetic Activity

 

SOHO LASCO C2

 

SOHO LASCO C3

 

Sun Spot Regions

 

Coronal Holes

 

SDO/AIA 304

 

SDO/HMI Flat

 

NOAA Solar Wind & CME Prediction

 

NASA Solar Wind & CME Prediction

 

Solar Wind Density (courtesy Rice University)

 

Solar Wind Speed (courtesy Rice University)

 

Interplanetary Magnetic Field Angle (courtesy Rice University)

 

Interplanetary Magnetic Field Magnitude (courtesy Rice University)

 

GOES Electron Flux

 

Other Helpful Aurora Links

Auroral Electrojet (Kyoto University)

Propagation (Ham Radio)

Helioviewer (Sun)

Space Weather Prediction Center

AuroraMAX Yellowknife, NWT Webcam (CSA)

SpaceWeather.com

Moon Phases (Waterloo, Ontario)

Churchill, Manitoba Aurora Webcam

Great Lakes Aurora Hunters Alerts (Facebook)

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