(Red aurora in Ursa Major, 31 March 2001, Central Illinois, USA)
(Last alarm: Level 1 at 02:34:17 UTC Jan 21)
Most of us associate the aurora borealis/australis (northern and southern lights) with cold, high-latitude areas where relatively few people live. However, the aurora can often be seen in temperate regions as well. Almost anyone living north of 30° N or south of 30° S latitude has a good chance to see this most beautiful of natural wonders at least once a decade. The challenge in our modern era is knowing when to look: Prior to the twentieth century, such a dramatic happening in the sky was hard to miss, but today, artificial light pollution around our cities has erased the night sky for much of Earth's population. Travel into the country is usually required to see the comparatively faint light of the aurora, so we need to be alerted quickly and reliably when a display becomes visible.
The Aurora Alarm provides this service free of charge to nearly 1,000 users. The only system of its kind in the world, it uses data from a detector site in eastern Washington to alert users in real time when the aurora appears in the sky. (A second detector site, in central Illinois, was retired in August 2003.) During the active years of solar cycle 23 (c. 1998-2004), the Aurora Alarm successfully alerted skywatchers in the U.S. to almost 40 displays of the northern lights. As cycle 24 gathers momentum, the Aurora Alarm will be watching once again.
Location and networking support are provided by Walla Walla University (Northwest site). The support of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign is also acknowledged for the 1999-2003 run of the Midwest detector site. The key optical components were donated by Hamamatsu Corporation, Andover Corporation, and Omega Optical, Inc..
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