Earlier this week the Sun had a coronal hole that was pointed directly at Earth. Many Aurora enthusiasts knew immediately what that meant – a high likelihood of seeing the Aurora. Typically, discovering and assimilating informatuon regarding solar flares and solar wind directed at Earth is easy, and it’s not hard to find online. There are copious amounts of websites and sources to discover when the Aurora will look it’s best.
The crux of the problem however is getting informed before the event has occurred and preparing properly. I live in Toronto, Ontario and the latitude is 43°N. When electrons begin pouring down our magnetic sphere that create the Auroras’, ideally you want to be at 60°N – the Artic Circle begins at 66.3°N. Thus being so far South, I need to wait for a very active storm before I even consider hopping into my car to drive North to get closer to the display and also to avoid light pollution. Its almost pointless to continually look up the predicted Aurora forecast because first off geomagnetic storms do not occur often, and even when they do, they don’t typically reach far South.
I’ve missed several geomagnetic storms that evidently were very pretty – the preponderance of images on Instagram made me envious and remiss. The first time I missed an Aurora display I vowed to not let it occur again. I researched early detection methods and ways to get the necessary information before it happened. All I needed to do now was sit and wait, and make sure to visit these websites every other day. Well my good intentions turned into bad habits, and after monitoring the sites alot at the beginning, I grew jaded because nothing was happening – again, it takes a LONG time for a decent light show to appear this far South – and I stopped monitoring the Aurora updates.
Then came the second Aurora…didn’t see that one either! “You fool…you stopped monitoring and one month later, BOOM…”. I was inconsolable. That flare up was pretty big too, and I couldn’t look at the Aurora images flashing on social media for long. I couldn’t believe my luck…and then my rational side of the brain said, “it wasn’t luck, you weren’t prepared”. Back to the drawing board.
I then found a service that automatically sends an email and text message when alerts become available. It was only 5 dollars per month, so I gave it a go. I tailored the alerts so that I wouldn’t recieve any information unless the strength of the Aurora was going to be strong.
After a week or two of beginning the service, I get an alert at the perfect time. It was 10:30 PM on Saturday and I was already up North at my cottage in Pointe Au Baril. The kp number was high, around 5 or 6, and the solar plasma was estimated to hit Earth in 20 minutes. So I gathered my things – camera, tripod, beer – and headed to the dock. Waiting and waiting, but nothing. The only glow I saw with my eyes was when I kept turning my cell phone screen on to monitor sources online which said “ANY MINUTE”. Well those minutes also flew by and no Aurora. At this point I figured that Aurora forecasting was some type of black magic because no one knew what the heck was going on.
Needless to say I cancelled that service. Fast forward 8 months later to last week Sept 29, 2016 and another big geomagnetic storm hits. Of course I missed this one too – but I wasn’t even paying attention to the possibility of it happening (during the last 2 years I realized I have a great knack for finding news articles online about various space phenomenon…of course after they occur!).
However, going forward I will never miss another potential Aurora display in Southern Ontario. I found the perfect service, and it’s free! And it’s run by really smart people…you could say they are rocket scientists. Not only do they have up to date written advisories, there are also beautiful graphs explaining interesting details. Most importantly you can subscribe to alerts for free and they are sent via email. I plan on never missing another Aurora and I hope with this new tool I can finally see and capture the beautiful dancing light!