Canada's northern communities are treated to regular displays of the aurora borealis due to the natural shape of the auroral oval, a crown of geomagnetic activity around the north magnetic pole that stretches from east to west across the country. (Credit: Canadian Space Agency / University of Calgary / Astronomy North)
You don't need special equipment to see an aurora, just a healthy dose of enthusiasm. Here are some tips that will make your observation night more enjoyable:
- To find out whether an aurora will be visible above your community, check your local or national aurora or space weather forecast. Follow AuroraMAX on Twitter or Facebook for alerts.
- Check the real-time position of the auroral oval:
The closer you are to the auroral oval, the better your chances of seeing an aurora. The auroral ovals are usually centred around the Earth's magnetic poles but can expand during periods of intense solar activity. When this happens, more southerly regions of Canada see the northern lights, typically on the horizon towards the north.
- Consult the weather forecast before leaving. Cloud cover obscures the aurora.
- If possible, choose a night without moonlight. The bright glare of the Moon—especially the full Moon—illuminates the night sky and makes fainter auroras invisible.
- Dress warmly and choose a location with dark skies. Light pollution from bright city lights makes it difficult to see the aurora.
- Don't forget your camera, and perhaps a thermos of hot chocolate!
When you first spot an aurora, here are some tips to help maximize the experience:
- If the aurora is moving slowly, keep your eyes peeled! The intensity can change very rapidly at any moment.
- Look around you in all directions. During periods of heightened activity, the aurora can appear anywhere in the sky, not just on the northern horizon.
- Try taking a photo.
- Watch for changes in colour and shape.
- Record your experience in an aurora journal so that you can recall the details and compare them with future observations.