Understanding Auroral Activity Data - Northern Lights in Iceland
If you would ask my grandmother she would tell you that the lights only turn on when the elves are making babies, in that case you can just play some Barry White to get them in to the mood. If thats still not working you should read on.
We at Aurora Vikings are true northern lights enthusiasts and experts at our specialization, the Northern Lights. We have studied the Aurora for years using all the apps and the data available online. And to be honest, a lot of the material available on the subject is just factually wrong.
Probably the most commonly used auroral activity forecast and very often misunderstood.
The KP is fundamentally a measurement of geomagnetic disturbance, with geomagnetic disturbance we often get the Aurora. Its a scale of one to nine and the higher the better stronger lights we can expect to see.
However, Its more complicated than that unfortunately. Even if the KP is high that does not mean that the northern lights will be seen. We need charged particles in our atmosphere for that to happen and in order for that to happen we need the IMF (Interplanetary Magnetic Field) to be negatively/south aligned. If the KP is high and the IMF swings south for an extended period of time we might expect strong auroral activity.
The KP forecast.
In simple terms, its based on 27 day old data. That is because the sun takes 27 days to rotate once in relation to the earth. So what we are seeing is how the geomagnetic disturbance was 27 days ago and there is a decent chance the same sunspots will give us similar activity as 27 days ago.
Its the only and best way we have to get a long term forecast and sometimes the forecast models account for new sunspots or possible CME ( Coronal Mass Ejections) heading our way.
We at Aurora Viking never really look at the KP because its mostly guesswork and its accurate maybe 50 percent of the time. That being said, its the best long term forecast we have.
The Real Time Data, The stuff that really tells us if something is about to happen. Since 2015 we have been learning more and more about the solar activity after the launch of the DSCVR satellite located in deep space in an orbit between the earth and the sun. The data it (and ACE) collects enables us to see about hour in to the future. This is the only reliable source of real data about the expected auroral activity. What helps us know the best is the data that measures the solar wind speed, density and the Interplanitary Magnetic Field - IMF. There are three basic factors that when they are working together we can be pretty sure the Northern Lights will turn on. (however like everything related to the auroras nothing is a hundred percent)
The website i´ll be using, (my favorite), is www.spaceweatherlive.com The Charts: We will start with Solar wind speed and Density:
Now this picture shows the wind speed and density at the time of making this article. The gray line shows the conditions on earth and then we can see about an hour in to the future. The time we see in to the future is relative to the speed of the solar winds - faster winds = less time to reach the planet. In my experience, if the solar wind is above 350 km/s and density is over 3 p/cm3, we will be seeing the lights if the IMF is right. As the Aurora gets stronger it will rise higher in to the sky and on nights with solar winds going over 500 km/s and density over 10 with the IMF negative 10 for at least an hour we will have the lights right over our heads and even to the south of us. Now to the IMF:
You should envision the IMF as a door. When the chart goes red, (south or negative), an opening in the magnetic field allows more of the charged particles coming in from the sun to enter the atmosphere. In this chart which is taken at the time of the writing of this post, the prospects are quite low, We want to see a good drop of the Bz down below at least 3 for at least 30 minutes for a burst of Aurora to appear. Leirvogur Magnetic Observatory
As one last tidbit of information, you should keep your eyes on the Leirvogur Magnetic Observatory: http://cygnus.raunvis.hi.is//~halo/lrv.html
Now this looks like an earthquake monitoring system and we are indeed waiting for earthquakes. We can see some nice movement at 22:00 - 00:00 last night and that was also a time when the Auroral Activity was high. This however is not a guide in to the future but only showing us the current status. If you are staying in a hotel and you want to wait inside, I would advice you to keep refreshing this until you see an "Earthquake". You should also stay inside until the IMF swings negative and that negative trend hits earth, that's when you should go outside if you have clear skies to the north of you. I hope this helps you on your journey and I wish you happy and bountiful hunts of the Aurora. If you want to go out with us on a northern lights tour, you can book on the website. If you have any questions you can send us messages on the website, we always answer promptly.