Do you want to track auroras, also known as the northern lights?

November 11, 2014

The public is invited to collaborate with the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) at Penn State University, NASA-Goddard and the New Mexico Consortium (NMC) in an important research project to help space scientists understand the mechanics behind auroras, the beautiful green and red light phenomenon in the sky. 

Through a new citizen science platform launched Nov. 11 called Aurorasaurus, anyone with a smartphone or access to the internet can track auroras in real-time and provide crucial data to this scientific collaborative.

Auroras, also known as the northern lights, are a natural light display in the sky caused by charged particles from near-Earth space exciting neutral particles in Earth’s upper atmosphere. Space scientists still lack an understanding of many specific mechanics of auroras, such as what causes their intricate shapes and how to accurately predict the strength of activity driven by the Sun.

To answer these scientific mysteries, the Aurorasaurus project team is recruiting the general public to track auroras via social media, providing scientists an abundant source of valuable data points during this upcoming year. This upcoming year is a solar maximum year -- a period that occurs every 11 years when the sun is extremely active -- and is expected to have an increased number of auroras. This is the first solar maximum with social media.  

Andrea Tapia, associate professor in IST, said, “We can watch the sun much more accurately than we can predict its effects on Earth 93 million miles away. Our goal is to collect new data from citizen scientists and crowdsourcing to allow actionable, up-to-the-minute understanding of auroral activity.”  

Citizen scientists can report and verify aurora sightings using the Aurorasaurus iOS and Android apps or the project website, This website is available due to funding by the Integrated NSF Support Promoting Interdisciplinary Research and Education (INSPIRE) program. The public can register via Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ to receive email and location-based notifications and points on the Aurorasaurus leaderboard. Aurorasaurus also features a map showing real-time aurora sightings, the weather, as well as the ability to check solar wind power. A space weather blog with news features, general information about recent auroral events, and a forum allowing users to ask questions to space scientists is another first.

The Aurorasaurus Scientist Network features 10 scientists and is expanding. “Using citizen science and real time data, this website can operate at scale, and change the way we provide information about solar storms, which will allow a more accurate “nowcast” of the visibility of the Northern Lights for the public,” said Elizabeth MacDonald, Aurorasaurus founder.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated November 13, 2014