People always seem shocked when they see images of the Northern Lights over the Puget Sound area in Western Washington. I constantly get comments on social media like “I didn’t know they could be seen this far south” for my personal favorite, “I have lived here all my life and have never seen them.”
The fact of the matter though is that the Northern Lights are not all that uncommon, you just need to know when to out out and look. Ok, you also need a clear sky and that is sometimes a challenge here in Puget Sound area.
This image was made during a solar storm over the Mothers Day weekend. I shot this from the Washington State Capitol grounds. This was actually very early in the evening and the storm faded from view for quite awhile after this. Sadly I packed up and left for home about 15 minutes before the storm intensified and put on a display that puts what you see in this image to shame.
So, you might be wondering what makes the conditions favorable to see the Northern Lights here in the Puget Sound area. As I already mentioned, you need a clear sky, clouds will kill your chance before it even starts. A moonless night also helps, but isn’t always a deal breaker. Most importantly though, the solar conditions have to be just right. The best resource that I know of is www.spaceweather.com. When you visit the site you will see a sidebar on the left side of the page. Scroll down to section that starts with “Current Auroral Oval” and look for “Planetary K-index”. In order for the Northern Lights to have a chance of showing up here in Puget Sound, that number will need to be at least 6. 7 or 8 are even better, but it was 6 when I made the attached image. The second number you need to look at is right below the Kp number and is the Bz. In this case it isn’t so much the number you care about, but the polarity of that number, you want it to indicate that the Bz is to the South, not the north. It is also important to remember that these numbers will vary though the night so you will want to be patient.
In any case, I hope you enjoy this image, and hope that it motivates you to get out and enjoy the lights the next time they show up.