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Home > Articles > How To > Advanced > How to Catch an Aurora

How to Catch an Aurora
By Michael Covington - 11/25/2004

Even though the sunspot cycle is nowhere near maximum, there have been spectacular auroral displays in the past year or two, even at latitudes where auroras would not normally be seen.

The Internet can help you catch these rare but beautiful events.

Start at www.spaceweather.com, a treasure-trove of real-time information about auroras and other transient phenomena.

A screen capture of a real-time aurora map.
Then, if you _really_ want to know what's going on, have a look at the real-time aurora map at http://www.sec.noaa.gov/pmap/pmapN.html.(see picture). It's based on hourly satellite surveys of the upper atmosphere.

The red area is where auroras are likely. It twirls around like a clock, staying away from the sun, whose direction is indicated by an arrow.

My experience has been that if the red gets within 1000 miles of me, we may have an aurora, and if it gets within 500 miles, we will have an aurora. I saw spectacular auroras in Georgia when the red area was just crossing Pennsylvania.

To photograph the aurora, all you need is a camera and tripod. There's no specific "correct" exposure. Try 10 to 60 seconds at f/2 to f/4 at ISO 200 or higher.

-Michael Covington

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