When a solar storm rattles our planet's magnetic field, beautiful auroras - also known as the northern or southern lights - dazzle the world. An aurora occurs when energetic particles from the sun rain through the upper atmosphere, causing the gas up high to glow. But it's notoriously hard to figure out where auroras are in real time.
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"Generally space is so huge (93 million miles from Earth to the Sun) and we only have a few widely spaced satellite systems that can constrain the models that make space weather and aurora predictions," Liz MacDonald, a space weather scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, wrote in an email to Discovery News.
"This leads to high uncertainties and aurora predictions that are pretty coarse. Also the aurora can grow non-linearly and the operational aurora models are not able to model that very complex physics yet. Lastly, the local Earth weather matters a lot to the public since you need clear skies to view aurora."
MacDonald's solution is to ask citizen scientists to pitch in with their observations. Called Aurorasaurus, it asks people to send in their real-time observations to the website. Twitter comments on auroras are also gathered.
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