A solar storm is coming this week, and you may already know what this means: the northern lights are coming to the south! Aurora Borealis is coming as far south as Oregon, Nebraska, Indiana, and Maryland, starting this Thursday (July 13). So, let’s get you prepared for this event so you can take some shots… Or at least watch and enjoy the show.
Why’s aurora coming so far south?
First things first: what’s happening? Why are the northern lights coming this far south? The sun is currently very active, and we’re expecting a solar storm that will trigger the aurora. It’s similar to the one in April. On July 13, the Kp-index (a worldwide 1-10 index of geomagnetic activity), is anticipated to reach six. For reference, a score above four is classified as a storm, while a six is deemed a “moderate storm.”
If the weather is favorable and the skies are clear, individuals in the northern region of the United States should be able to witness the vibrant phenomenon.
Where can you observe aurora this week?
According to the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute’s forecast, the high solar activity starts tomorrow, July 12. From there on, moderate activity will last all the way until July 21.
the University of Fairbanks stated:
“Auroral activity will be high(+). Weather permitting, highly active auroral displays will be visible overhead from Inuvik, Yellowknife, Rankin and Iqaluit to Vancouver, Helena, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Bay City, Toronto, Montpelier, and Charlottetown, and visible low on the horizon from Salem, Boise, Cheyenne, Lincoln, Indianapolis and Annapolis.”
According to Gizmodo, folks from northeast Washington and Montana, South Dakota, Michigan, and Maine will see the aurora overhead. But it’s coming further to the south: those in Oregon, Nebraska, Indiana, and Maryland will see the lights on the horizon. Of course, most of Canada will see the show too.
How to observe and shoot the aurora
How to get the best view
Here are the viewing tips from the Space Weather Prediction Center:
Location: Generally, to see the aurora, you should head towards the magnetic poles. In this case, the more in the north you are, the better. If you’re in the northern hemisphere, make sure your view to the north is unblocked. A good spot could be a hilltop, for example. Even if the aurora is 1000 km (600 miles) further north, you’ll still be able to see it from a proper location. It’s worth mentioning, even when the geomagnetic activity is low, you can still witness a great aurora show!
Light conditions: Obviously, nighttime is your chosen time for observing the northern lights. Try to cut the light pollution as much as possible and escape the city lights. A bright full moon might make the aurora seem less bright, though it’s not actually dimmer.
Timing: The peak time for aurora viewing is usually around midnight, between 10 PM and 2 AM local time. When geomagnetic activity increases, this window can stretch into the evening and early morning hours. However, auroras during these extended times might not be as lively or as visually pleasing.
Best seasons: Spring and fall equinoxes are the best times to watch the aurora. However, thanks to the high solar activity, we’re seeing the northern lights travel more south than usual in the middle of the summer. Keep in mind, though, that there are fewer dark hours in the summer, and take it into consideration if you’re planning to travel specifically to see the aurora.
Basic shooting guidelines
Once you have your location and timing plan, it’s time to pack your gear. You’ll need a camera (obviously), a high-quality fast lens, and don’t forget a tripod! It’s a good idea to use a lens on a wider side, around 20mm, to capture the light show in all its glory. But of course, this is up to you. I also suggest using a remote trigger to make your photos completely free from the camera shake.
Dave Williams wrote a great aurora shooting guideline (also as a book), so you can check it out for more detailed information and get prepared for your shoot. You can also browse through 2022’s top 25 aurora photos and see how they’re taken. It’s a great source of inspiration and information at once, so I suggest you give it a read.
Now all that’s left is to read the info I linked, plan your shoot and pack your gear. I wish you clear skies, and hoping I’ll see some of your aurora photos! Feel free to drop them in the comments.