A coronal mass ejection question.
August 3, 2010 1:06 PM   Subscribe

What are the odds that I'll see the northern lights?

So apparently there is a coronal mass ejection going on right now that will be hitting the atmosphere tonight and tomorrow which could mean increased aurora activity. Cool. How likely am I to see the northern lights and what can I do to maximize my chances?

Vital Info: I'm on about the 41st and a half parallel, which is fairly far south as far as auroras are concerned. However the NOAA website map shows me being inside (on the edge of, but definitely inside) the area where there could be auroras. Will I be able to see them if I'm looking for them, or is this the kind of thing I need to go off to a super dark spot and get fairly lucky to see?

Bonus question: anyone know of any spots in the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City area with super super dark skies that are good for spending some time looking up? Anywhere dark enough to see the Milky Way around here?
posted by cirrostratus to Science & Nature (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: For a dark spot I like the area south of the reservoir west of North Liberty, around here. Greencastle Ave cuts off at the river but there is an old bridge you can walk on there, and the view of the north should be unobstructed.

I don't know about your odds of seeing something tonight. People around Iowa City have seen aurura here before.
posted by thirteenkiller at 1:27 PM on August 3, 2010

Best answer: You might find this site useful in locating a dark-sky observing site near you:
Clear Dark Sky Astro Observation Forecasts (Iowa version). The Iowa City area appears to have some favorable conditions coming together about 1:00 a.m.

Also, folks on the edge of viewing areas sometimes find that they can't see aurora with the naked eye, but slow exposure photography will reveal that the lights are there. So if you go out, take a camera with you.

Never seen 'em myself, but I might make a trip out there tonight too. Good luck!
posted by richyoung at 1:29 PM on August 3, 2010

A dark spot could increase your odds, but I saw them once in the middle of Calgary, which is one of the most light-polluted cities in Canada. So it could happen right in town. But get to the country for a better shot.
posted by fso at 1:39 PM on August 3, 2010

Heyo my google maps link didn't work. Well, just look up Greencastle Ave and Swan Lake Rd in Johnson County, that's the area I'm thinking of.
posted by thirteenkiller at 1:43 PM on August 3, 2010

You're not that far south of me and I hope to see at least something.

Keep an eye on spaceweather.com, specifically the auroral oval map. They tend to update that every three minutes or so. If you see intense energy levels anywhere near the Great Lakes, look up!
posted by tapesonthefloor at 1:44 PM on August 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

You'll increase your chances if you get yourself to a dark spot in the country with clear horizons (no buildings, no forest). I too have seen them from downtown in a major metro area, but I'm way norther-than-thou. There is little that will make you more frustrated than seeing the tiny ripply edge of the Lights, behind something you didn't notice was using up sky.

My best viewing has been out about 45 minutes from the edge of town, and lying in the grass verge between the two parts of the least-populated doubled highway (of course, park safely, and don't make your car an obstruction or I-need-help beacon). Try to be at your viewing place right when it starts to get dark to give your eyes the longest possible time to adapt to low light.

I hope you see something beautiful.
posted by Sallyfur at 3:00 PM on August 3, 2010

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