The app is NOT in the app store. Click 'go to the app' and follow the instructions at the top of the screen.
Don't panic! It looks far more complicated than it is. Read this guide and you will understand the importance of each piece of information to aurora hunting.
If you are a total novice then you don't need to look further than the message at the top of the app, which is basically just giving you a plain English summary of what all the scary-looking numbers are telling us right now.
Keep an eye on the activity level that is shown below the map. The higher the number (from 0 to 9), the stronger the aurora is in the sky right now. It looks like this:
|Activity Level 3|
Kp simply does NOT work. Apps that use Kp will get lucky sometimes. Mostly, they will be consistently wrong.
The activity level shown on this app is a 100% accurate equivalent of Kp that actually works, in real-time.
Read on and I will explain what each section of the app means. But first...
It uses ground-breaking scientific research and models, that are not available anywhere else, to provide totally accurate aurora alerts and forecasts.
It does things totally different to all other web-sites and apps by tracking the actual substorms that cause auroras in real-time, significantly out-performing all data and alerts provided by other apps, official scientific agencies and universities.
There are two kinds of apps, 'native' apps and 'web' apps.
Native apps are what come through the App Store and were designed by phone manufacturers to tie customers to their particular brand of phone. A native app will only run on one maker's phones. Developers need special tools and software to produce them and, hence, you will often be charged to download them. A native app has to be produced for every device, and often operating system version, that the developer wishes to support, so it is very time-consuming and expensive to produce them.
Web apps are internet-based apps that can be installed and run on any device, not just phones but tablets, desktop PCs and laptops too. Web apps can now do virtually everything that native apps can do, including accessing your GPS, gyro-compass and notification system. The only difference is the way that you download and install them. Once installed, they look and behave exactly like native apps.
If I give you a loaf of bread, it is still a loaf of bread, even though you didn't get it from a store.
Visit the app in the web-browser on your phone. Use Chrome or Safari. It will look just like you've visited any other web-page. You can bookmark it just like a web-page. However, that is NOT the way to do it! If you click the install button or the little icon in the top right of the browser that is three vertical dots (or a square with an arrow on iPhones), a little menu will appear and one of the options is 'Add to Start/Home Screen'. If you click that, the app gets packaged up like a native app and installed onto your phone. You will get an icon for it on your start screen, just like all your other apps.
The app is here: https://aurora-alerts.uk/
On an Android phone installing the app, by clicking the install button on the site or adding the site to your home screen, automatically generates the APK file that would normally come from the App Store and installs it on the phone. It hasn't just 'bookmarked' the page. If you don't believe this then go into the settings on the phone and open the application manager. You will find Glendale App listed with all of your other apps and all of the same options available as your store-sourced apps.
The app does work perfectly on your iPhone, as long as you install it as explained above. You just will not receive push alerts on your phone but can get alerts via twitter (instructions below).
Apple do not allow web apps to access to the notification system on iPhone and iPads. The advantage to them is that this forces app developers to make apps specifically for Apple products and ties both you and the developers to their brand.
Never mind. The app works just fine on iPhone or iPad but you install it differently to store apps. You will not find it in the App Store.
To install it:
You can get alerts from the app on your iPhone but you have to be a bit devious and get them via Twitter.
Install the Twitter App and follow @SkyeAuroras. Click the cog wheel and turn on notifications.
Just stick to the information at the top of the app until you have gained your confidence. The 'nowcast' at the top is giving you a simple explanation of what the current situation and prospects are.
Underneath the 'nowcast', any alerts that the app has issued will be shown. The aurora alerts are colour-coded:
Further down you will see 'live reports', which features a map showing reports of sightings across the country that have been submitted by users of the app. If there are reports of auroras from places further south of you then it is 'game on' where you are.
The map has four symbols:
If you swipe right/left on the map, it will toggle between the UK, Iceland, Scandinavia and Canada.
At the bottom of each panel on the app there is a help button that will give you a basic explanation of what it means.
All of the scary figures on the app are colour-coded to tell you how important they are. Yellow is good, orange is great, red is fab, purple is amazing.
When something important is happening, the panels will open and lots of numbers will be lit up in pretty colours.
Now lets look at each panel in detail and understand what it is telling us...
Substorms are the most important thing on the app. Substorm equals aurora. No substorm, no aurora. Strong substorm, strong aurora. Simples!
In the substorm panel on the app, you will see the substorm phase and beside it a number in nanoTeslas (nT). That number is the single most important number on the app. It is the strength of the substorm and, therefore, the strength of the aurora in the sky. You want it to be big and negative called a 'big dip'. The bigger the dip, the better the aurora and the further south it can be seen. Falling (more negative) is good, rising is bad.
A substorm can drift south bringing the aurora with it. Just like a thunderstorm, the closer it comes to us the better we see it. The distance of the substorm from you (in kilometres) is shown, with a label beside showing roughly where the substorm is, e.g. Norway, Iceland, Faeroes, Shetland, in terms of latitude.
A substorm goes through three phases, which can take many hours to complete. These are called 'growth', 'expansion' and 'recovery'.
The best aurora happens in the expansion and recovery phases. In the growth phase, the aurora is just developing, charging up.
The point when the substorm switches from growth to expansion is called 'onset' by scientists or 'the aurora's kicking off now' to normal folk. This app is the only app in the world that is able to tell you that the 'aurora's kicking off now' because it is the only app in the world that is tracking substorms.
Substorms may stall in their growth phase and when this happens the app will tell you. When it stalls, the substorm is primed and ready to kick-off but IMF conditions mean that the onset will be delayed. It can take anything from 1 to 4 hours for a stalled substorm to kick off... but it will, you just have to be patient.
When a substorm is active, you will see information displayed showing when it started, peaked in its growth and expansion phases, together with the peak strengths in each phase.
Also, shown in this section are measurements of the substorm strength taken at various locations in Norway and Sweden. The places are arranged vertically in order of descending latitude.
Beside each strength value you will see an arrow appearing. This indicates whether the value is rising or falling and how fast it is changing. When a substorm is active then arrows pointing downwards are good. The steeper it is dipping, the better.
When no substorm is active, you will see a summary of the last three substorms.
Lots of scary numbers in this panel, so what do they all mean? Well it's all about how well the magnetic field carried by the solar wind is aligned with that of the Earth. When they are well aligned a substorm will develop, so when you see the 'now' and 'next' rows lit up in pretty colours there is going to be some activity in an hour or so. If there's already activity more will follow later.
If the 'next' row is no longer lit up then activity will gradually start to fade away again but there can be a burst of activity, as the energy trapped during the growth period gets released, so give it an hour before you head to bed.
When using the IMF panel it is vital to understand that a well-aligned IMF arriving at Earth NOW does NOT result in aurora until 1 to 3 hours later. This is why it is very useful for deciding in advance whether to head out tonight.
When the Bz arriving at Earth suddenly flips negative, a substorm begins to develop. Aurora doesn't happen right away. It's like piling up logs to make a bonfire and then in 1 to 3 hours they get set alight. In most cases, the Bz will be firmly positive when the aurora is actually happening.
Substorms can also overlap. If the Bz stays negative while a substorm is in expansion or recovery then another substorm is starting to develop in parallel. You've got one bonfire lit and you're piling up the logs to make another bonfire alongside. The next one gets lit on average 3.5 hours after the first one.
When a substorm is in its expansion phase, the IMF values have absolutely no relevance whatsoever to that activity. Substorm strength trumps every other metric. If the substorm strength is -400 nT, for example, there is a nice aurora happening even if all the IMF rows are totally black.
Beware of looking at IMF figures on other apps and web-sites, as those are not measured at Earth but at a satellite a million miles from Earth. You need to add an EXTRA 1 to 1.5 hours before those values will result in aurora at Earth.
You read the 'prev', 'now' and 'next' rows just by looking at the colours. The more boxes that are coloured the better the alignment. A red box is better than an orange box is better than a yellow box.
IMF 'NOW' is all about the future, not the present, we use it to decide whether to head out and also to tell us when it is good to go to bed.
The speed and density of the solar wind don't directly matter that much for aurora-hunting. They just tell us whether the Earth is passing through a stream of particles from a coronal hole (CH) or a coronal mass ejection (CME). It is the IMF that the solar wind carries that is more important. Many of the best substorms occur in the turbulence called a 'stream interface' when the Earth is passing between low and high speed particle streams.
When a substorm is active, especially in its expansion phase, the solar wind speed and density have absolutely no relevance whatsoever. Substorm strength trumps every other metric. If the substorm strength is -400 nT, for example, there is a nice aurora happening even if the speed and density are at ambient levels.
Coronal holes are openings in the sun's magnetic field that allow plasma to escape into space. When these holes are facing Earth, the solar wind emitted from them can cause auroras 3 to 4 days later. These holes can remain open for several months, providing regular, predictable, repeating auroras at 27 day intervals.
The 'now' tab highlights any coronal holes that are currently on the solar disk. They move from left to right. When they are in the centre laterally, the solar wind from them is being directed towards the Earth and will arrive in 3 to 4 days.
The '-27 days' tab allows you to compare the sun now against how it looked on the last rotation. This allows you to see whether the holes are still open and whether they have got larger or smaller.
The '-4 days' tab allows you to see the coronal hole that is affecting the Earth today as it looked when in the Earth-facing position 4 days ago.
Solar flares and filament eruptions on the sun can propel bursts of plasma called Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) out into space.
This app is constantly analysing solar imagery to identify when CMEs occur and will show a graphic highlighting the outline of the CME emerging from the sun.
What you are looking for is the CME outline completely encircling the sun, which indicates that the CME is aimed directly at Earth. This will give the maximum possibility of strong auroras when it reaches Earth 2 to 3 days later.
Even if the CME outline only surrounds half of the solar disk there is a chance that part of the CME will hit Earth.
CMEs are very powerful eruptions and when they hit the satellites that measure the solar wind, around a million miles from Earth, cause a sudden, sharp, step increase in the figures called an Interplanetary Shock.
The app will automatically issue an alert when the shock is detected and it will then hit Earth within 1 hour. In the immediate hours after a shock hits Earth the strongest of all auroras can occur, so you need to be ready and pay close attention to the app after any shock.
Solar flares are eruptions from sunspots that can propel bursts of plasma called CMEs towards the Earth. These take 2 to 4 days to reach Earth and, when they arrive, can trigger strong substorms. Most flares don't produce CMEs and most CMEs miss the Earth, so the best the figures in this panel can do is get our hopes up!
You need to know when it is dark enough to see auroras, so the app has all of the times that you need for aurora-hunting.
There is nowhere else on the internet that gives you the sunset, twilight and moon times for tonight, rather than 'today', which is essential for aurora-hunting. It is the only app that tells you when the twilight ends tonight and starts again tomorrow morning. It tells you precisely when it will be dark where you are tonight.
You need to use the long-range forecast! This is the most accurate long-range forecast that you will find anywhere. Other long-range forecasts are based either on guesswork or effects felt at a satellite that is a million miles away from Earth. This long-range forecast is calculated from actual substorms that directly affected us and when those substorms are most likely to recur again.
You have to be a bit flexible with long-range predictions. If the app says it will occur on say 5th/6th you might find it actually happens on 4th/5th or 6/7th. Don't just book a single night. Book the night before and the night after too to make sure you have it covered.
There's a simple reason for this. The rotation period of the sun is 27.5 days and it is the half a day that scuppers us. It means that on the next rotation a particle stream that caused a strong substorm at night is going to arrive in the day, so the substorm might happen a night earlier or a night later.
The coronal hole that produced the particle stream may shrink before the next rotation but it might also have got bigger. It is not unusual for a coronal hole to stay open for several months producing regular auroras on each rotation. It is important to keep checking the Coronal Holes panel on the app for the latest updates on the approaching hole in the week before your holiday.
For nights that look promising the app tells you what the moon and twilight situation will be. If you can avoid it, you don't want to book a night when the moon is bad for auroras.
If you don't have a phone just use the app like a web-site on any desktop PC or laptop. Use the Chrome, Firefox or Edge browsers. Enable alerts and just leave it permanently running in a tab whenever you are using the computer. You will get the alerts popping up in the bottom corner of your screen and can use the expansion alarm or activity alerts to let you know when an aurora is kicking off.
The app will switch to use wi-fi when you do not have a mobile signal. It will work perfectly over the wi-fi in your house, so you can use it whether you are out on an aurora hunt or sitting at home waiting for it to kick off.
If you lose your signal on an android phone while out hunting auroras, the app will have stored all the essential information on your phone, so you can still use it. You can also make aurora sighting reports while your phone is offline and they will automatically be sent out as soon as you get a signal again.
The app will send you alerts if you enable them on your Android device or in the Chrome, Firefox or Edge web browsers on windows desktops and laptops.
The alerts are sent out automatically by the app at important points in the development of the substorm. These are:
You have to be realistic with alerts. If it is cloudy, you won't see anything. Even a bit of haze might kill it. Moon can kill it. Light pollution kills it.
If you are lucky enough to live in Northern Scotland, Iceland, Southern Scandinavia, central Canada or Tasmania then you should be heading out with your camera as soon as you get the onset alert and by the time the red alert goes out the aurora will be amazing. Even on the onset alert only, you'll be in with a chance of some aurora.
However, if you live further south then you need to treat onset and yellow as pre-warnings, get your camera ready, put your coat on, maybe even jump in the car if you have a journey to your viewing point. The orange and red might not happen. You have to take a gamble and eventually you will get lucky. If you do get a red alert, go for it!
You may get alerts before it is properly dark where you are because places to the east of you are already dark when the substorm begins. Use this as an advisory to be ready as soon as it gets dark where you are.
The app is tracking the substorm hours before the alerts are sent, so if you check the app regularly you can follow the development of the substorm and head out to your viewpoint ahead of the alerts. Then you can use the alerts just as a backstop in case you forget to check the app.
You can get alerts from the app on your iPhone but you have to be a bit devious and get them via Twitter.
Install the Twitter App and follow @SkyeAuroras. Click the cog wheel and turn on notifications.
A lot of people do and, because the alerts on my app are free, lots of people subscribe to them, just because it doesn't cost them anything. Many of them quickly lose interest when they realise that catching auroras means standing outside on cold, dark nights at stupid o'clock.
What the app does to counteract this, and help those who are serious about aurora-hunting, is to prioritise the alerts.
If you use the app regularly, every day, submit live reports and enter your proper name/location into the aurora reporters box the app will know that you are serious. It will automatically put you at the top of the queue for alerts.
If you never use the app, never report anything or enter junk in the aurora reporters box you will stop being sent them.
The expansion alarm is a loud beeping that the app will make when a substorm goes into its expansion phase. It is intended for use on any desktop PC, any laptop or non-Android tablets. Let's explain how I use it and why I created it...
Before the Glendale App existed, to find out when a substorm was going into its expansion phase we had to sit constantly watching a graph on the computer called the 'stackplot'. When the stackplot dipped, we were game on. However, this meant constantly sitting in front of the computer all night watching the graph. You could guarantee that the moment you went off to watch something on telly, or dozed off on the sofa, the aurora would kick off.
I have a desktop PC in my sitting room, so nowadays I just leave the app permanently running in the Chrome browser, switch off the screen-saver and power-saver on the computer and go off to do other things. I can watch the telly, have a nap on the sofa, relax and as soon as the aurora kicks off the 'puter starts beeping its head off and lets me know about it.
Even better, the app gets the data ahead of the Stackplot graphs, so the 'puter is bleeping before the graphs have even started to dip!
The expansion alarm works a bit like your 'getty-uppy' alarm clock. When it goes off, there's a 'pause' button you can press that works like the 'snooze' button. When you click 'pause', the expansion alarm will stop bleeping until there is another surge in activity.
Activity alerts are notifications sent to your device to keep you fully updated on everything that is happening. On a night with good aurora it will ping a lot! The feature is intended primarily for desktop users but works on phones and tablets too.
It is very useful for serious aurora enthusiasts and admins of aurora-based social media sites, as it will ping you about:
The app will automatically switch into the correct mode for your country as soon as you step off the aeroplane. It will provide alerts exactly as it does in the UK version but, if you are closer to the auroral zone, it will most likely be visible to the naked eye on the yellow alert and will be excellent by eye by the red alert.
It is important that you step outside and look at the sky, or take a photo, as soon as the alert is issued. The most vivid, intense displays usually occur within minutes of the alerts being issued, so you need to react quickly. If you see a big red or orange arrow pointing downwards in the Substorm panel on the app, you need to go outside and look at the sky, as this in when the aurora becomes most active.
If you are using the app in the UK but want to view the Iceland/Scandinavian/Canada/Australiasia sightings, swipe left or right on the map to toggle between regions.
I have been working with Caroline Weir of Aurora Iceland to develop the Iceland version of the app. Caroline has been conducting research in Iceland that mirrors my own work here in the UK and, as a result of our collaboration, this app is the only accurate one for Iceland.
Caroline's Aurora Iceland web-site has essential advice on aurora-hunting in Iceland and I recommend that you read it before your visit. You should also follow her facebook page Aurora Iceland Facebook to see her amazing photos.
The app has also been tested and proven to work 100% accurately in over 20 countries worldwide for both Northern and Southern Lights.
Only trusted users of the app, who have earned a star-rating, are allowed to upload photos.
When you have the privilege, you can upload as often as you like but only your last upload will be used.
You can upload photos or back-of-camera shots taken tonight only. Any abuse of this facility will result in an automatic ban from the app.
Read the about the history of app and what is happening behind the scenes here.