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Non-Space System Operation - Service to auroral tourism sector

A sinister-looking aurora over Iceland
(Photo by D. Necchi).

Interested to see and photograph the aurora? Regional Auroral Forecasts will help you.

Auroras are a beautiful and harmless manifestation of space weather processes. Eruptions on the solar surface can occasionally cause rapid variations in the near-Earth space environment, which are associated with bright auroras appearing at high latitudes and in extreme cases also at middle and low latitudes. Large-scale solar events, such as coronal holes, flares and coronal mass ejections are responsible for the most intense geomagnetic disturbances in the Earth's space environment. Deflections in the geomagnetic field are caused by changing electric currents in the upper atmosphere, which then result in beautiful auroral displays. The Regional Auroral Forecast service (RAF) follows continuously solar activity and variations in the geomagnetic field and can help you decide when it is a good time to put on something warm and go outside to a place with a nice view towards the Northern horizon.

How is auroral light generated ?

Auroral light is generated in the upper parts of our atmosphere with a similar mechanism as the illumination by neon lights: in dilute gas, electrons collide with heavier atoms or molecules and as a consequence the atoms are excited. When the atoms return from the excited state back to their normal state the extra energy is released as light. In the hunt for auroras it is important to be patient and wait until your eyes get adjusted to the darkness. It is good to know that the human eye observes auroras in a different way to cameras. Our eyes see dim auroras as white or grey structures, while cameras with long enough exposure times show the same auroras as green, red or purple. With bright auroras this problem does not exist. Instead the challenge is to be in the correct place at the correct moment. Unfortunately the most beautiful sightings are often quite short-lived, so instead of going in to wake up your friends, be selfish and enjoy the show.

This service is implemented through a combination of products, tools and alerts which can be found through the following tabs along with expert support provided by the teams constituting the SWE Network. Should you require further guidance in the use of this service, or have specific questions about any aspects of the service presented here, don't hesitate to contact the Helpdesk.

This service page is curated by the ESC Geomagnetic Conditions. For further information, please contact SSCC Help-desk

The aurora forecast service (Regional Aurora Forecast, RAF) by the Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI), can be found within the "Products" tab, under the "Earth atmosphere and geomagnetic environment" tab. This product shows a map with the estimated location of the auroral oval and, as supporting information, cloudiness predictions provided by the Finnish Meteorological Institute.

Auroras are visible for the human eye only in the night time. Therefore the service also provides sunset and sunrise times at selected sites. Moonlight can also disturb the visual show, although it does not fully hide bright auroras. Consequently, moonrise and moonset times are also given with the information of the nearest days of full and new Moon.

The page contains also a set of three "lamps" which turn to red in the cases where the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have issued alerts of enhanced Kp values or on solar flares during the recent 2-3 days. The texts nearby the lamps tell the type of the NOAA alert and its issuance time. A typical situation is that no NOAA alerts have been issued during the last 48 hours. However, it is still possible to see auroras at higher latitudes, since there is a persistent auroral oval around the poles. Its estimated location is determined by a statistical model (shown with bands of gray colour), which relies on NOAA's prediction of global geomagnetic activity. In the cases of very low geomagnetic activity the auroral band can be at latitudes poleward of the RAF field-of-view and thus not depicted in the maps.

To assess in more detail the geomagnetic conditions, the products under the "Earth atmosphere and geomagnetic environment" tab include the Magnetogrammes from North(west) Europe and Greenland by Tromsø Geophysical Observatory (TGO) and a forecast of dB⁄dt provided by the Swedish institute of space physics (IRF). The products for interplanetary medium at L1 give forecasts and real-time data for solar wind properties.

Interplanetary medium at L1

Interplanetary Magnetic Field (IMF)
  • Near-Earth NRT solar wind (DSCOVR)
  • IMF Index Nowcast 1-hour
  • IMF Index Nowcast 1-minute
Solar Wind Bulk Velocity
  • SIDC Latest daily space weather bulletin
  • Near-Earth NRT solar wind (DSCOVR)
  • Near-Earth solar wind forecasts (WSA-Enlil + Ensemble)
  • Empirical solar wind speed forecast
  • Solar wind speed forecast (STEREO-A persistence model)
Solar Wind Bulk Density
  • Near-Earth NRT solar wind (DSCOVR)
  • Near-Earth solar wind forecasts (WSA-Enlil + Ensemble)

Earth magnetosphere

Geomagnetic Storm Condition
  • Swarm Polar Electrojet (PEJ)
  • Swarm Field-Aligned Current (FAC)

Earth atmosphere and geomagnetic environment

Auroral Visible Imaging
  • Aurora forecast service
Local External Magnetic Field on Ground
  • Magnetogrammes from North(west) Europe and Greenland
  • LDiñ
  • LCiñ
  • Forecasts of dB/dt
  • Real-time and historic geomagnetic activity plots and data files for geomagnetic surveying (total field)
  • Real-time and historic geomagnetic activity plots and data files for directional drilling (total field, declination and inclination)
Local Geomagnetic Induced Geoelectric Field
  • Maps for power and pipeline operators
  • Table of modelled GIC
  • Pipe-to-soil voltage (PSV)

SWE Data is a web application that provides access to a wide range of Space Weather related data sources covering the areas of the spacecraft, ionospheric, and ground effects. SWE Data allows the user to access all data contained in the repository providing analysis and visualisation tools from these disparate sources.

The following alert is associated with this service:

This section provides links to web pages or resources that are not part of the SSA Space Weather Network or esa.int domain. These sites are not under ESA control, and therefore ESA is not responsible for any of the information or links that you may find there.  

Reference documents