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Aurora Borealis in Minnesota

Did You Know...
... that if conditions are just right, you can see the aurora borealis here in Minnesota? Although the northern lights are normally only visible at very high latitudes in places like Alaska and Canada, on extremely active days the auroral oval expands to more southern latitudes.
The Space Plasma Physics Research Group at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis created this web site to share the beauty of the northern lights with you. This site features photographs of the aurora borealis taken in Minnesota by Professor John Winckler, as well as links to other aurora images on the WWW. We have also included information on space weather forecasts, and lists of resources essential for every aurora watcher.

Aurora Gallery

Visit our Aurora Gallery to see examples of what the aurora borealis looks like when it is visible in Minnesota.

The Aurora Gallery features photographs of the auroral borealis taken by University of Minnesota Professor Emeritus John Winckler. Dr. Winckler received his Ph.D. from Princeton in 1946 and is an expert in the field of space physics - the study of Earth's magnetosphere, the solar wind, and the aurora.

These photographs were taken by Dr. Winckler at the O'Brien Observatory located in Marine-on-the-St. Croix, Minnesota. The O'Brien Observatory is maintained by the University of Minnesota- Twin Cities Department of Astronomy.

The Big Dipper is clearly visible in 2 of the images. Can you find them?
-- Click Here for the Answers!!

Images and Photography Tips on the WWW

Other Sites with Aurora Images

Photographing the Aurora

Space Weather and Auroral Forecasts

The aurora borealis or northern lights are caused by a complicated set of interactions between the solar wind and Earth's magnetic field. Recent developments in satellite and ground observations now make it possible to forecast "space weather" near Earth resulting from disturbances on the sun. Because the science of forecasting geomagnetic storms is relatively new, our ability to predict space weather is still somewhat limited. Just as the meteorologists on televsion sometimes fail to predict thunderstorms on Earth, space weather forecasters are not always able to accurately predict when a solar flare or coronal mass ejection from the sun will interact with Earth's magnetosphere to produce a geomagnetic storm. However, these space weather forecasts can still help power companies and operators of communications and GPS satellites anticipate potential problems caused by geomagnetic storms.

Space weather forecasts can also help predict when we might be able to see the aurora borealis in Minnesota!

Today's Space Weather Forecasts

Auroral Forecasts and Activity Reports

  • Aurora Forecast from the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. This site also includes a customizable world map showing the approximate Universal Time (UT) when maximum activity is likely to occur at different longitudes. This is usually close to local geomagnetic midnight, and occurs at about 5:30 UT in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Universal Time (UT), or Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), is 6 hours ahead of Central Standard Time (CST).

  • The Space Environment Center has a web page of Tips on Viewing the Aurora. This site features a list of the geomagnetic latitudes of locations around the world, and a clickable map showing how high the Kp index needs to be to see the aurora in different locations in the United States. According to the information on this web site, we have a reasonable chance of seeing the aurora borealis in Minnesota when the Kp index is greater than 5 or 6. To see the current Kp index go to the bottom of the Today's Space Weather web page, provided by the Space Environment Center. Note that the time scale on the Kp index is given in Universal Time (UT), also known as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), so you need to subtract 6 hours to get Central Standard Time (CST).

  • Auroral Activity based on data from the latest pass of the NOAA POES satellite, provided by the Space Environment Center.

  • The Solar Terrestrial Dispatch maintains the Auroral Activity Observation Network which provides reports of recent aurora sightings from around the world. You can even submit your own observations! You can also download a FREE trial version of the STD Aurora Monitor Software 2.0 a space weather monitoring package you can run on your PC.

  • The University of Minnesota Space Physics Group recently began its own Aurora Report for aurora watchers in Minnesota and the Midwest.

ISTP Sun-Earth Connections and Solar Maximum

The International Solar Terrestrial Physics (ISTP) Program is an international collaboration of space physicists sponsored by NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Japanese Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS). The primary goal of this program is to promote the study of Sun-Earth Connections to increase our understanding of the sun and the solar wind, Earth's magnetosphere, geomagnetic storms and the aurora. Space physicists in the University of Minnesota Space Plasma Physics Research Group are actively involved in studying data from the ISTP satellites Geotail, Wind, and Polar, and data from collaborating missions such as the FAST satellite.

Sun-Earth Connection Web Sites

  • Mission to Geospace - the ISTP Program outreach and education web site.

  • Take a look a the listing of ISTP Sun-Earth Connection Events to see examples of the data space physicists use to track the progress of coronal mass ejections and solar flares, and monitor their effects on Earth.

  • View real-time data from ISTP satellites and collaborating programs.

Current Solar Maximum Information

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