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Hints for Aurora Watching

Sometimes one is surprised by the appearance of bright active auroras directly overhead as soon as it gets dark in the evening. When this happens, it is a good bet that the sky will be worth watching the rest of the night. Very likely the aurora will weaken from time to time through the night, but it usually will brighten up and become active again several times.

More usually one notices arcs and bands building up in the northern sky and slowly spreading southward. Especially when several close spaced arcs appear without showing much motion, one should expect spectacular activity to follow within the next few minutes to an hour.

Once the arcs begin to break up into swirling bands, it is common to see fast-moving rays with reddish lower tips racing back and forth along the auroral forms. Then after a few minutes of splendor, the whole scene grows disappointing, and everyone goes back inside the house to warm up.

However, if one will just go back outside a few minutes to an hour later, the aurora usually will present a special treat relatively few people are aware of. This will be a display of pulsating aurora. It occurs mostly in the hours near and past midnight, after the bright, spectacular part of the display. To see the pulsating aurora well, one must have dark-adapted eyes. This means one must stay outside without looking at any bright lights for five or ten minutes, even twenty is best.

Then if one looks overhead, one will see large, weak patches of light blinking on and off every few seconds. It is not bright but it is awe-inspiring. The pulsating aurora may persist for many minutes or even several hours. Thus even when you get cold or tired and go in, it will continue to play on in your absence.