Satisfy Your Auroral Longing
TravelQuest International’s "Iceland: Fire, Ice, and Aurora" tour in November 2002.
Although I’m interested in all things astronomical, the northern lights have a little more meaning to me. My (alas, now-closed) high school was named for Arctic explorer Robert E. Peary. Consequently, the school’s publications all had appropriate names: the newspaper was The Midnight Sun, the yearbook was called Polaris, and the literary magazine was titled Aurora.
The higher your latitude, the more likely an auroral display will be visible. The regions of the upper atmosphere where charged particles cascade down along Earth’s magnetic field are concentrated in ovals centered on the planet’s magnetic poles. Areas that lie underneath the auroral ovals have displays nearly every night though they aren’t always spectacular. An energetic gust of particles from the Sun can widen and brighten the ovals considerably, so grand auroras can be seen as far south as Central America.
Some Aurora-Monitoring Web Sites
Much of this information is available via the Internet. But if you want to turn your computer into Solar-Storm Central, Cary Oler’s STD Aurora Monitor and John Schilling’s Solscape, for Windows and Macintosh, respectively, will provide a wealth of data and images culled from various online sources. You can configure each program to indicate the likelihood of an aurora, and even activate an audible alarm.