How to Anticipate a Possible Aurora

Another way that you can anticipate a possible aurora is to check the latest space weather from the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center.

You can check on the latest solar flare activity here.

The site is updated every five minutes.

Pay particular attention to the red graph. When a spike shows up on it, a solar flare has taken place. If it spikes in the "C" column, the chances of it producing an aurora can be rated as "fair to poor." If it spikes in the "M" column, the chances improve to "fair to good." And if the spike reaches into the "X" column, the chances of catching sight of an aurora improve further to "good to excellent." The higher up a spike goes on the graph, the more potent the subatomic particle stream will be and the better your chances at seeing an aurora will be.

Of course, the farther north you're located, the better the odds of you actually sighting an aurora. Obviously, if you live say, in Florida, the odds of making a sighting are much lower than for someone living in Maine or Quebec. Still, auroras are possible even over more southerly latitudes. If a stupendous flare erupts on the sun, the zone of visibility for seeing an aurora normally positioned over northern Canada and Alaska can be pushed far to the south.

After a solar flare occurs, it takes about 20 to 30 hours for the electrified solar particles to reach the Earth. To determine if an aurora might be visible where you live, check the latest planetary K-Index here.

As this index increases, the southern edge of auroral visibility moves southward. A K-index of 3 indicates that any auroral activity will be confined to central and southern Canada.

A K-index of 5 suggests that activity might be glimpsed over the Northern Plains, upper Great Lakes and northern New England.

If you see the K-index reach 7, it could be that an aurora might be seen as far south as New York, Chicago and the Central Plains states. And if the index soars to 8 or 9, then quite possibly the northern lights might shine all the way down into the Deep South. Such displays, however, most always occur only when a flare spikes into the "X" category. Hopefully, we'll see this type of activity in the years to come.

Good Luck!

Joe Rao is a television meteorologist in the Hudson Valley, appearing weeknights on News 12 Westchester. He has also been an assiduous amateur astronomer for over 45 years, with a particular interest in comets, meteor showers and eclipses. He has co-led two eclipse expeditions and has served as on-board meteorologist for three eclipse cruises. He is also a contributing editor for Sky & Telescope and writes a monthly astronomy column for Natural History magazine as well as supplying astronomical data to the Farmers' Almanac. Since 1986 he has served as an Associate and Guest Lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium. In 2009, the Northeast Region of the Astronomical League bestowed upon him the prestigious Walter Scott Houston Award for more than four decades of promoting astronomy to the general public.