Current Aurora Activity
The Space Weather Prediction Center at the U. S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) offers a 30-minute forecast of auroral activity and intensity for the Northern and Southern hemispheres. This tool illustrates the current position and extent of the auroral oval—a more or less permanent feature centred over our planet’s magnetic poles. For a longer range view, the NOAA now provides a three-day animated forecast map.
The strength of the aurora (also known as the Northern Lights) is indicated by the colours shown in the scale on the bottom of each map, with red indicating most intense conditions and dark green being the least. Generally, if red appears over your geographic location, there’s a good chance you’ll see some auroral activity if your skies are dark and clear.
Another excellent resource for aurora watchers is Natural Resource Canada’s Space Weather forecast page. Select your region and you’ll find a bar-graph displaying the current level of activity and forecasts covering the next three and six hours.
Aurora Photography: Terence Dickinson’s Tips
Today’s digital cameras make capturing the aurora easy. In particular, if you own a DSLR (a digital single-lens reflex) camera, you can clearly catch subtle auroral curtains that are barely perceptible to human vision.
Use your widest-angle lens at its lowest f-stop (typically between f/2.8 and f/3.5), and set the ISO to 800 or 1600 and the exposure to between 10 and 25 seconds. You’ll need a camera tripod to keep the camera steady during the exposure and a location away from light pollution. Yes, the last factor — escaping light pollution — is often the hardest one. But a fine aurora portrait is easier to capture than ever before.
Non-DSLR cameras, usually called compact digital cameras, are less capable of taking aurora shots, but are worth trying if tripod-mounted. Check the user’s guidebook to see whether you can set the compact camera to a manual mode that allows up to a 15-second exposure around f/3.5, a setting that should record an aurora.
Good luck—and if you manage to get a nice photo, please send it to us so we can share it with our readers.