You may well have heard about the dazzling Northern Lights display predicted for 2012. Well, we did enjoy a few amazing light shows but didn’t get quite get what we were told to expect. Northern Lights Forecasting is never an exact science but it is possible to explain why the Aurora didn’t live up to expectations in 2012. And what’s more, this explanation offers increased hope of great things over the coming months.
The forecast for 2012 was based on a pattern in the Aurora appearances related to solar cycles. The lights are caused by particles bursting from the sun on a solar wind and being carried along to us. These particles get energised in our atmosphere and give us one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World: the Aurora Borealis. Once every 11 years, the sun hits the peak of its activity: the solar maxima before going down to the solar minima until the next peak. It’s at this time that more particles than usual are ejected and fly into our skies.
The maxima was expected to run from the end of 2012 to May 2013 but, while there was some increase in Auroral activity, it was nothing like the scale we were all hoping for. NASA has been looking for an explanation and Dr. Dean Pensell says he’s found one. The Northern and Southern hemispheres of the sun don’t always peak at the same time, at the moment the Southern hemisphere’s lagging behind. This occurrence is called as ‘double-peak solar maxima’ and we’ve seen them before, the last one being in 2001. The previous forecast was only for a single peak since a double was unanticipated, so the prediction has been revised.
Recent updates confirm that the next peak is expected in 2013, autumn is suggested as a fantastic time to head on an Aurora hunt and this is expected to continue into winter and on into 2014. The peak is expected to finish before the end of next year but the levels of solar activity will take some time to go back down to the solar minima so the Aurora are still likely to benefit from this increase in activity.
In essence, if you’re planning on searching for the best Northern Lights display of the decade, autumn or winter 2013 are the best times to do it. Your last chance to see a heightened display will be winter 2014.
For the latest, up to the minute forecast, take a look at the University of Alaska Aurora Forecast and to book your trip to see the Aurora, take a look at the fabulous itineraries on offer at the Mighty Fine Company. Happy hunting!