Viewing the Aurora Borealis, or the Northern Lights, can be challenging but rewarding.

“The first time you see them it is the most amazing experience,” said Tanya Black, founder of the Northern Lights of Wisconsin Facebook group.

Peak Aurora viewing is expected through October, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The Aurora is typically visible in high-latitude regions near the Arctic Circle, but during periods of increased solar activity, it can sometimes be seen at more southern latitudes, including Wisconsin. During the 2023 viewing season, there were a dozen or more opportunities to see the Northern Lights in the Plover Area.

“There is never a guarantee to see them, and if you do, you should consider yourself very lucky,” Black said.

5 Tips to increase viewing chances:

1. Check the Aurora forecast
Keep an eye on the Aurora forecast, which predicts the likelihood of the Northern Lights being visible in a particular area. Websites like the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) or apps like Aurora Forecast can provide real-time information on geomagnetic activity. Black says she looks for earth-facing coronal mass ejections (CMEs), a negative BZ and a KP above 5.
“When considering the data, you only want to look about 3 days out,” Black said. “Anything beyond that is based on historical data.”

2. Choose a dark location with a clear view of the northern horizon
The Northern Lights are best seen on dark, clear nights away from light pollution. Black recommends finding a location before the Northern Lights are predicted. She says in Wisconsin, the lights will not be directly above, so a clear view of the northern horizon is important. Northern Lights hunters should pay close attention to the moon cycle.
“In Wisconsin, a full moon will impede on seeing the Lights,” Black said.

3. Be Patient
Viewing Northern Lights is never guaranteed, even if conditions are ideal. The numbers and data could be perfect, but there could be a number of other factors that are not ideal. Be patient and give yourself plenty of time to observe the night sky.
“It’s very unpredictable,” Black said. “You have to be dedicated. Be patient. Don’t get frustrated; continue to search. You will see them.”

4. Capture the Moment
In Wisconsin, the lights may not always be visible to the naked eye. Black says if the conditions are right and the sky is clear, she recommends taking a test photo with a camera or cell phone. A camera will capture lower levels of light than the naked eye can see. A camera with manual settings will allow more control, but a cell phone in night mode can capture the lights as well. Don’t forget to stabilize the camera. Because Northern Lights are only visible when the skies are dark, longer exposures are needed. Cameras should be stabilized either with a tripod or another object to limit movement and ensure clarity.

5. Have a backup plan
The Northern Lights are incredibly unpredictable. Even when the conditions are perfect, there is no guarantee of visibility. Northern Lights hunters who travel to see them should have a backup plan to ensure the trip is not wasted in the event the lights are not visible.