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Aurora Viewing
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The Basics to viewing the aurora

If you have already had the pleasure of viewing the aurora, then you know it is one of the most amazing things in life that you can ever see. If you plan on viewing the "Northern Lights" or "Southern Lights" for the first time, you must understand a few things first.

1. Monitor solar activity. If the sun is active and flare producing sunspots are visible, this increases your chances of viewing aurora. If an explosion (solar flare) takes place, it may blast particles towards earth (coronal mass ejection), eventually leading to what is known as a geomagnetic storm. Aurora is a product of these storms. The size and strength of geomagnetic storms can vary greatly.

2. This one is obvious. You will want to hope that your viewing area is as cloud free as possible.

3. Try and get as far away from city light pollution as you can. If you can get to where it is as dark as possible then it makes it so much easier to the naked eye. Other factors such as a full moon may effect viewing as well.

4. This one is important. You need to know your magnetic latitude. When there is a geomagnetic storm in progress, you can track data online to better predict if you will have a chance to view the aurora. There is a simple index called Kp also known as the Planetary K-Index, a number from 0 to 9, which is used to refer to geomagnetic activity for a 3-hour period. When you use a special tool below, you can cross reference your magnetic latitude and compare with the Kp index needed in order to view the aurora.

Click the maps below in order to find your magnetic latitude. (click on the map once page loads)

Some examples of magnetic latitudes are below.
City
Magnetic Latitude
Atlanta
44.5
Berlin
48.3
Boston
51.7
Chicago
51.7
Christchurch
49.9
Copenhagen
51.9
Dallas
42.7
Denver
48.3
Great Falls, MT
54.9
Halifax
52
Los Angeles
39.8
London UK
47.5
Miami
37
Minneapolis
55.1
New York City
50.6
Ottawa
55.0
Oslo
56.0
Paris
44.2
Prague
45.5
Quebec City
56.2
San Francisco
42.5
Sydney
43.5
Seattle
52.7
Toronto
53.9
Vancouver
54
Washington D.C.
49.1
Winnipeg
59.5

Chart of how high Kp index needs to be compared to your Magnetic Latitude.
Magnetic Latitude
Kp
66.5
0
64.5
1
62.3
2
60.4
3
58.3
4
56.3
5
54.2
6
52.2
7
50.1
8
48.1
9

Now putting it all together

If a geomagnetic storm is in progress and the Kp Index is listed as 7, then using the chart above you can tell that locations at magnetic latitudes of 52 or higher have a good chance of seeing aurora. In a place such as Minneapolis (55.1) or Toronto (53.9) for example it would be a good time to go outside and look up and to the north. At solar max when geomagnetic storms are numerous, Storms producing a Kp Index of 8 or 9 happen from time to time. Aurora has been spotted as far south as California and Texas. Aurora does happen at other times when explosions are not taking place such as when the solar wind streaming from the sun enters earths upper atmosphere near the north pole. Best tip is to keep monitoring conditions and keep looking north. You never know when aurora can appear.

How to photograph the Aurora

The simplest explanation on how to take a good picture of the northern lights is as follows.

1. Make sure there is the least amount of light polution possible.
2. Use a tripod.
3. Do not use a flash. Set your exposure on your camera. Depending on the brightness of the aurora you may have to set your exposure from a few seconds to over 30 seconds in some cases. This is where the tripod comes in handy.

A great website that explains aurora photography in detail is..
http://www.alaskaphotographics.com/how_to_photograph_northern_lights.shtml.