where to see the Aurora Borealis

In general, you are more likely to see an aurora if you are at a high latitude, i.e. closer to the north (or south) pole. However, there is a catch to this. The earth's magnetic poles are not exactly in line with the geographic poles, so the latitude of interest would really be the magnetic latitude. Note that it is not necessary for the equatorward boundary of the aurora to reach all the way down to your magnetic latitude for you to see it.  The aurora is easily visible even when its boundary is 4 or 5 degrees poleward of your location.  So, how do you know what your magnetic latitude is? We have several methods to help you:

  • In the table below, find a city not far from where you live, and make a note of its magnetic latitude.

North America

Europe and Asia

Southern Hemisphere

City

Magnetic Latitude*

City

Magnetic Latitude*

City

Magnetic Latitude*

Atlanta

44.5

Athens

31.3

Adelaide

45.9

Boston

51.7

Berlin

48.3

Buenos Aires, Argentina

23.3

Chicago

52.2

Copenhagen

51.9

Capetown

41.5

Dallas

42.7

Edinburgh

53.0

Christchurch

49.9

Denver

48.3

London

47.5

Comodoro Rivadavia, Argentina

32.1

Great Falls, MT

54.9

Madrid

33.3

Concepcion, Chile

23.2

Havana

34.1

Moscow

51.8

Dunedin

53.0

Los Angeles

39.8

Paris

44.2

Durban

38.8

Mexico City

29.1

Perm

53.8

East London

41.1

Minneapolis

55.1

Prague

45.5

Hobart

53.6

New York

50.6

Rome

35.5

Melbourne

48.4

Quebec City

56.2

St. Petersburg

56.1

Perth

43.9

San Francisco

42.5

Warsaw

46.7

Punta Arenas, Chile

38.6

Seattle

52.7

Beijing

34.1

Sydney

43.5

St. Louis

49.2

Irkutsk

47.0

Toronto

53.9

Seoul

31.0

Washington, DC

49.1

Tokyo

29.0

Winnipeg

59.5

Vladivostok

36.5

When geomagnetic activity is low, the aurora typically is located, in the hours around midnight, at about 67 degrees magnetic latitude*. As activity increases, the region of aurora expands toward the equator. When geomagnetic activity is very high, the aurora may be seen at mid and low latitude locations around the earth that would otherwise rarely experience the polar lights.

Kp maps of midnight equator-ward boundaries

There are maps for four quadrants of the globe:


North America


Eurasia


South America and Eastern Pacific


Africa-Indian Ocean-Australasia

The average equator-ward boundary of the midnight aurora is shown for levels of magnetic activity ranging from relatively low, Kp=3, to very high, Kp=9. Clicking on the map at that location will give the approximate magnetic latitude for that location. (Keep in mind that aurora can still be viewed when it is positioned 4-5 degrees in latitude away from the viewer although it will appear about 20 above the horizon.) These maps were created using satellite observations to determine the average equator-ward boundary of the aurora as a function of the Kp index**. Using those data, the typical maximum extent of the aurora toward the equator for the hours around midnight for four levels of geomagnetic activity is displayed.

* Corrected magnetic latitude
**The Handbook of Geophysics and the Space Environment, Air Force Geophysics Laboratory, 1985

putting it all together

Once you know your magnetic latitude, and how high the Kp index needs to be for you to see the aurora at your magnetic latitude, it comes down to choosing a viewing time of high magnetic activity by frequently checking the Kp index and SEC forecast. (The table below will help you relate the POES Auroral Activity Level to the Kp index.) Of course, for you to see the aurora it will also have to be a clear night without interference from city lights or moonlight.

Comparison of Auroral Boundaries from Kp and Auroral Activity Level at Local Midnight

Magnetic Latitude

Kp

 

Magnetic Latitude

NOAA POES Auroral Activity Level

66.5

0   67.5 1

64.5

1 66.5 2

62.4

2 65.6 3

60.4

3 63.9 4

58.3

4 62.5 5

56.3

5 60.7 6

54.2

6 58.6 7

52.2

7 56.7 8

50.1

8 54.6 9

48.1

9 51.0 10
  48.5 10+
45.0 10++