Calling Bad Astronomer: aurora borealis question.

I’ll get straight to the point: Is there any certifiable way to predict when the aurora borealis will appear?

The story: I was driving home tonight from Bismarck, about an hour and a half drive. Just south of Max (35 miles from town), I looked and saw what I thought was the glow of headlights from the north. Weird thing was, they were green! And they kept moving. About a half a breath later I realised I was looking at the aurora borealis. Peronally hailing from Northern New Jersey, I was under the impression that: A) They only come out during the wintertime, and B) You can only see them from the Northern Tier.

I know they can come in different colors. I also found out from a search of the SDMB that you can apparently see them as far south as Tuscon, AZ. I also found that you can get a forecast of solar activity from the government.

So, is it really all that possible to predict when, where, and what color they’re gonna be?

Last time I saw them, I was at a toga party in May. No, I wasn’t drunk. :smiley:

Check out They keep track of solar activity and give estimates of how likely it is that there will be activity.

The northern lights are not limited to winter time, although the nights are longer and often clearer so maybe they’re more frequently seen then.

As for predicting where the aurora will be visible, when, and what color – it seems to be a very approximate art. We can observe coronal holes and solar mass ejections but apparently can’t tell precisely where the ejected particles are heading or how fast. also has recent sighting reports.


So we can get some advance warning (hours, I think) if we monitor B[sub]z[/sub]. But it’s not foolproof.

That page also says we tend to get more and brighter displays around the beginning of spring and autumn.

Right. Like rainfall, you can predict when you get an aurora and maybe how strong it will be, but it’s not practical to predict exactly how strong or where it will be.

Walt Kelly:

A) Dude, it is still winter here. I thought the sub zero temps would have been a clue.

B) This IS the Northern Tier. Any further north and you are in Canada.

I saw those lights as well, way over here in Fargo. I have seen many brilliant displays here, some even in summer.

Yeesh. Max, North Dakota. I have family out there. Desolate wasteland.

Who roars a roar for Nora,
Charming Nora in the night;
For she has seen Aurora
Borialis burning bright.


Hmm, can’t find the Pogo books at the moment, but the version I remember is slightly more euphonious:

As a side note, I’ve been toying with the idea of going to southern Alaska in early May. Would I have a shot at seeing them, or is that too close to summer? (My name is Nora, if that helps at all :))

[li]“Wasteland”! And you wonder why I bitch about Minot.[/li][li]I thought it was weird when I saw them in May.[/li][/list=1]

I thank y’all for the help in the sites. The only thing I’m left with is this: Is color a part of latitude? I’ve heard of green, blue, and even read auroroa borealis. I can only theorize it’s a function of which angle the solar wind strikes the magnetosphere. . .

And particlewill, when the hell are you coming to Minot for a Doper Gittogether?!?

Make that “red” in the aurora borealis.

I’m a moron, no matter how many times I preview. . .

But colors, are they predictable?

Fretful Porpentine:

Got my handy POGO book right here. And the song goes:

O roar a roar for Nora,
Nora Alice in the night.
For she has seen Aurora
Borealis burning bright.
A furore for our Nora!
And applaud Aurora seen!
Where, throughout the Summer, has
Our Borealis been?

IMHO, Walt Kelly had a gift for twisting and remolding the English language unlike anyone since James Joyce. He could have been a great writer like Joyce, but instead he decided to use his talent to make people happy.