NOAA app lets you track aurora from solar storms

It’s 2012, so I’m sure we’re all waiting for the latest “end-of-the-world” scenario to rear its head. This week it came in the form of solar storms that are supposed to be disabling communications and keeping Global Positioning System devices from working.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) website and its Facebook page can keep you updated.

Of course, one nice thing these storms do is make the auroras more visible and at lower latitudes than normal. Although the current storm, while strong compared to those in recent years, isn’t bringing the show to the vast majority of us, the current 11-year solar cycle is expected to hit its peak in 2013 and 2014. So there’s still a chance we can see an aurora without going to Alaska.

Related story:

Largest solar storm in 7 years could disrupt GPS signals, power grid

And if you want to keep an eye out for any possible sightings, there is the OVATION Auroral Forecast application that the SWPC is putting out as a “test product.”

It’s pretty neat. It shades in an area near the pole based on how likely it is that the aurora is happening over that point. There is also a red line that indicates the farthest south you can be to have a chance of seeing anything. Of course, it also has to be night where you are, so they were kind enough to put the day/night terminator on the graphic. They have three angles on the aurora borealis up north, and one pole-centered view of the aurora Australis down south.

The model is run every five minutes, but you will have to refresh your browser manually if you are obsessed over getting the most current aurora modeling prediction. You can see for yourself at their website.

To generate this model, they use information gathered by the Advanced Composition Explorer satellite, which is orbiting the L1 point (the LaGrange Point that is between the Earth and Sun). So I guess if the storms cause the auroras to become hugely visible, they may lose satellite communication and OVATION may not be able to tell us. Awkward.

Oh, also, I did see an aurora last night — but only because I was playing the video game Skyrim at the time.

About the Author

Greg Crowe is a former GCN staff writer who covered mobile technology.

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Reader Comments

Fri, May 25, 2012 Bill Skeffington Nor Cal

Just curious as to why the "Aurora Forecast" test app has not been updated since 05/23/2012 at 01:05 UT ? Have emailed the contact address, but rcvd no response as yet. Link address for this service:

Thu, Feb 2, 2012 DT

They should produce a smartphone version of the Auroral Forecast application.

Thu, Jan 26, 2012 Ed Nichol Lillooet BC Canada

Mr Crowe Strong storms in my town produce an effect as if you were standing inside of a funnel ( right side up ). The funnel is also split open East/West. The effect is stable for most of an evening. Quite thrilling. I also thought that I once saw a photo from the Space Station North along the Mackenzie River, NWT, on the west side, that showed two more of these funnels. Another is in southern Ontario? Are there any published pictures anywhere or other good reports. This week is all overcast here, so I am out of luck for now. Ed

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