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Tips For Knowing If You Can See Northern Lights Where You Live Or Not

June 7, 2011 · 13 comments

in Misc Tips

I have seen the Northern Lights once in my life, and it was surreal.  We were visiting my in laws, who live about 30 miles north of Detroit, when all the sudden these green waves sort of swept across the sky.  It was absolutely unbelievable. Since that event, I have tried to keep an eye open for other opportunities to possibly see the Northern Lights again.

In order for Northern Lights to ‘form’, there needs to be a solar event like a solar flare.  Whenever I see a headline about unusual solar activity, I immediately begin researching to see if Northern Light (Aurora Borealis) may possibly be seen in Michigan.

There are just a few items you need to check to see if the Northern Lights can be seen from where you live.  It may sound complicated but it really isn’t.

Steps To Take To Understand If Your Location Could See Northern Lights

  1. Find out your Magnetic Latitude. Select a major city you live closest to on the Magnetic Longitude Table on the NOAA website.  (The option to select a location is at the bottom of the table.)  For example, I selected ‘Detroit’ from the drop down box, and it stated my Magnetic Latitude is 52.
  2. Find out what KP value correlates with your Magnetic Latitude. To tie the Magnetic Latitude to the Kp value, scroll further down in the article mentioned above.  There, you will see what Kp value is equal to your Magnetic Latitude.  (Kp values range from 0 to 9, and represent geomagnetic activity).  Using my previous example, Detroit has a Magnetic Latitude of 52, which approximately equals a Kp of 7.   (An alternate method for finding out your Kp value is to look at the Aurora Map, which sections off  North America by Kp level.   The line below your city is the minimum Kp level that is required to see Northern Lights in your area.   You can also click on this map at the approximate location of your city to get the Magnetic Latitude value.)
  3. See what the Kp Level has been at recently . The Estimated Kp chart shows how high the Kp levels have been over the last 3 days.  If you notice that levels have recently been at or above the level required for you to see the Northern Lights, then there is a chance the Northern Lights will be visible in your area after dark.  (Assuming there is minimal light pollution.)  For example, in my situation, if I notice the previous 3 hours on the chart show a Kp value of 7 or greater, then I will be running outside to look for the Aurora Borealis!
  4. Check the status for Auroral Activity where you live. The Auroral Activity page shows a visual of the position of the ‘Auroral Oval’ over the last few hours or so (with the most recent being the visual in the upper left).  If this ‘Oval’ is over the area you live and it is orange, then that is also a sign that you may be able to see Northern Lights.  You can also click on each image to see a larger version.

There was a major solar flare this past Tuesday, and Northern Lights may appear during the night time hours of June 8th/9th, 2011 . Keep an eye on some of the visuals mentioned above and maybe you will be lucky enough to see the Aurora Borealis.  (With my luck, it will be cloudy…)

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Little House June 8, 2011 at 9:51 am

I’m pretty sure I’m too far south to see the Aurora Borealis, but thanks for sharing that link. I’m going to see if there’s a spot in northern CA where I’d be able to view them.


Kris June 9, 2011 at 9:31 pm

Little House- It is so hard to know when they will ever be out, it is such a fluky thing.

I will say though I was staying in a lodge in Yosemite and saw the most amazing, giant, multi-colored shooting star. That too was surreal and sometimes I think it was such an interesting phenomenon that I am having false memories. Fortunately, there were many other people there that saw it too!


Crystal @ BFS June 8, 2011 at 10:12 am

That sounds amazing!!! I doubt I will ever be lucky enough to be north of Texas at the exact same time unusualy solar activity is happening, but I might put this on my bucket list…


Kris June 9, 2011 at 9:28 pm

You love cruises, head to Alaska!


retirebyforty June 8, 2011 at 10:39 am

I’m pretty sure we are too far south in Portland OR as well. CA and TX are definitely too far south. The real problem is it’s always cloudy here. 🙂


Kris June 9, 2011 at 9:27 pm

RB40- You never know what kind of strange anomaly will happen, but Texas would definitely be a shock!

We get a lot of clouds in Michigan too. Every time I plan to set up camp to watch meteor showers, it invariably is either foggy or cloudy.


First Gen American June 8, 2011 at 11:08 am

I’ve seen them on a plane once. It’s definitely on my bucket list. Thanks for the instructions.


Kris June 9, 2011 at 9:26 pm

First Gen- I can’t imagine seeing them on a plane. I would have asked the pilot to slow down so I could watch more! 🙂


Lola June 8, 2011 at 6:17 pm

Great explanation about finding the Northern Lights as a DIY!

Here’s an interesting historical factoid about the Northern Lights occurring way down south during the big Civil War battle at Fredericksburg in VA


Light pollution would not have been a problem at that time, but still, it’s amazing to think the Lights could appear at that latitude.


Kris June 9, 2011 at 9:25 pm

What an interesting little tidbit. I loved that picture in the article. My Northern Lights were only green, I can’t imagine how beautiful multi-colored lights would be.

You are right, it is so surprising they were visible so far south. I keep checking the Kp levels the past two nights, and nothing strong enough so far. Darn it!


Money Reasons June 8, 2011 at 8:23 pm

Hmmm, maybe I have a chance to see them someday after all.



Kris June 9, 2011 at 9:19 pm

You aren’t too far south MR! You just need a nice, strong solar storm! Or, go on an Alaskan cruise- that would be my ultimate dream!


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