Digital cameras are making the recent auroras look magnificent, but what are they like to the naked eye? Are they comparable in surface brightness to the Milky Way?


They are much brighter than the Milky Way - I have once seen one bright enough to read by, think it was back in '76 or '77 and it was so powerful it was also audible in Orkney (59 degrees north.) Unfortunately haven't seen this week's one as it has been overcast here.

A full moon will drown out a lot of the detail to the naked eye, but if you are used to photographing night scenes, you should find it remarkably easy. Either go for a relatively high ISO to fix the movement, or allow for the blurring and get some of the longer timeframe effects along with a lot of bright colours.

Whether or not you see one will depend mostly on your latitude, but in any case, get out of the city and head for dark countryside - take a deck chair, blankets and a flask of soup and enjoy the show.

  • $\begingroup$ I live in Hawaii, so it's unlikely that I will have a chance to see for myself this year... You take the bad with the good ;-) $\endgroup$ – Larry OBrien Jan 25 '12 at 19:49
  • $\begingroup$ sadly, at 21 N, I don't think you're ever going to see one...unless something really big happens on the Sun $\endgroup$ – Rory Alsop Jan 25 '12 at 19:57
  • $\begingroup$ Do you really mean "audible"? $\endgroup$ – Keith Thompson Jan 25 '12 at 21:15
  • $\begingroup$ @KeithThompson Yup - lovely crackling and fuzzing noise! $\endgroup$ – Rory Alsop Jan 25 '12 at 21:38
  • $\begingroup$ I saw a solar storm in 2001 or so at 38 N (Charlottesville, Virginia). It started as a red blot by the horizon and swelled to fill a full quadrant of the sky. Pretty amazing. Didn't hear it, though. $\endgroup$ – Andrew Jan 26 '12 at 2:04

Your eye can see them without having doubts about what it is. Is different than clouds and they are as magnificent as in the pictures. Usually the pictures are made with long exposures but not very long, between 2-30 seconds. The photo that I am posting is made with a 4 seconds exposure in a zone with a lot of light pollution. You could see this with the naked eye and it was actually more impressive as your eye has a larger field of view and higher sensibility. You can see the stars near the aurora, but usually aurora outshines them if is directly on top. The moon on the other hand is much brighter than aurora and even if it outshines it I saw full moon and aurora together (pic2).

enter image description here With the full moon. enter image description here

EXIF data.


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