Best Aurora Tracking Apps For Northern Lights in Norway | Guide to Lofoten

best aurora tracking apps for northern lights in norway

Are you considering a winter trip to Norway and wondering how to increase your chances of seeing the Northern Lights? This guide will answer all your questions, not only about the best aurora tracking apps in Norway but also about how to use these apps effectively and interpret the data they present, including values like the Kp index, Bz, or solar wind speed.

BEST AURORA ALERTS APP NORWAY
These were the values shown on the Aurora Alerts App on November 5, 2023, during a massive geomagnetic storm. The values went through the roof, and the northern lights were visible all the way to Turkey, yet the app still showed just a 50-60% probability of seeing the Northern Lights. Don't trust the percentage, and don't concern yourself too much with the Kp value if you are in northern Norway. What you should pay attention to are the values shown in the red circle. You can also note that the app show 96% clouds in my location and indeed, we have not seen anything because of the clouds.

Why do we write an article about Aurora tracking apps?

In addition to our travel consulting services, which assist people in planning their vacations to Norway, primarily (but not limited to) Lofoten and Tromsø, we also manage several Facebook groups focused on travel to Norway.

 

Norway: Tips for Travellers

✅ Lofoten & Tromsø: Trip Planning Community

✅ Tromsø Northern Lights Alerts

✅ Lofoten Northern Lights Alerts

In these groups, roughly half of the winter questions often involve the Northern Lights.

 

How do you track the aurora borealis? Can you see aurora tonight? Tomorrow? Next week? On January 31? Will they be more visible on September 15 or February 14? What is the best app to track the northern lights?

 

No one can guarantee a spectacular display on a specific date and no aurora tracking app will simply tell you that there will be a colossal aurora show tomorrow. It doesn’t work like that.

 

However, many scientific tools now measure solar activity and Earth’s magnetic activity. The data from these tools can estimate the likelihood of Northern Lights’ appearances.

There are various types of northern lights forecasts, but in this article, we will focus on the data provided in the 30-minute estimates, as they are the most reliable.

Table of Contents

Check Not Only Aurora Tracking Apps But Also Weather Forecasts

Most people rely too heavily on Aurora Borealis forecast apps, particularly the significance of the Kp index. 

Let me start with this: in high-latitude locations like Tromsø and Lofoten, you have a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights almost every night from the end of August until the beginning of April, no matter what the Kp index says. 

The biggest obstacle to Northern Lights viewing in northern Norway is a cloudy sky.

Why Do You Need Clear Skies to See the Aurora Borealis?

Clouds typically form in the lowest layer of the atmosphere, extending to about 6 to 20 kilometers (4 to 12 miles) above the Earth’s surface.

In contrast, the Aurora Borealis occurs in the thermosphere, a much higher layer that starts about 80 kilometers (50 miles) above the Earth and extends to 600 kilometers (372 miles) or more.

So even if all the values of all Aurora alert apps go through the roof, you won’t see anything if there is a layer of clouds between you and the northern lights.

Know the Difference in Clouds When Planning to Chase the Northern Lights

Not all clouds are problematic when it comes to viewing the Northern Lights. A partly cloudy sky can add a 3D effect to your Northern Lights photographs or make your time-lapses more dramatic. 

Also, you don’t need to be overly concerned about high clouds. The low clouds and middle clouds should be a cause for concern.

High Clouds

Altitude: Above 6,000 meters (20,000 feet).

Characteristics: Usually thin and wispy, composed mostly of ice crystals due to the high altitude and colder temperatures.

Impact on Aurora Viewing: High clouds have the least impact on viewing the aurora. They are thin, so you can often see the northern lights through them. 

Middle Clouds

Altitude: Found between 2,000 and 7,000 meters (6,500 to 23,000 feet).

Characteristics: These clouds are denser than high clouds and often appear as gray or blue-gray, forming in sheets or layers.

Impact on Aurora Viewing: Middle clouds are the most problematic for Aurora viewing. Their denser composition can block or obscure the lights, making the aurora appear fainter or completely hidden. Also, the middle clouds tend to move less, making them more likely to persist and obstruct the view for longer periods.

Low Clouds

Altitude: Generally found up to 2,000 meters (6,500 feet).

Characteristics: The low clouds range from light, fluffy cumulus clouds to thick, gray nimbostratus clouds.

Impact on Aurora Viewing: Low clouds, while dense and potentially blocking the view of the aurora, can be more dynamic. The wind can sometimes blow them away and clear the skies temporarily for aurora viewing. However, when these clouds cover the sky densely, it’s unlikely that any auroras will be visible.

Northern Lights Forecast Lofoten: Importance of Low, Middle and High Clouds

How to Use Weather Forecast Sites and Aurora Tracking Apps

When checking the weather forecast for Northern Lights viewing in Norway, our three popular choices are Yr.no, Windy.com, and Meteologix. You can also use Ventusky. We discuss the different weather forecasts in more detail in our article “Northern Lights Forecast for Lofoten & Tromsø.”

meteologix weather forecast for tromso county_aurora forecast tromso_x
Here you see the cloud coverage over the Tromsø region. We talk more about the weather forecasting tools in a separate article. Click on the picture to read it.

Set Realistic Expectations About the Weather in Northern Norway

 

Reading the weather forecast is an art. Ideally, you want a night with clear skies, but that does not happen too often in northern Norway. 

 

If the forecast predicts low and middle clouds in your location, you must either wait and see if the clouds might move away or find an area where the cloud cover is less dense. 

 

For that reason, we recommend joining a Northern Lights tour in Tromsø. The guides have experience reading the weather forecast and choosing the locations where you have the highest chance to glimpse the sky through the cloud cover.

 

Also, you must understand that weather forecasts are not 100% accurate. The weather in northern Norway is notoriously unpredictable, and forecasts can change on short notice or may be incorrect.

Are you looking for the best northern lights tours in Tromsø?

How Can The Aurora Borealis Be Predicted?

Brief history of the northern lights

For centuries, people have gazed in awe or fear at the dancing green lights in the sky and wondered what they were. 

For example, in Norse mythology, people associated the Northern Lights with the god Bifröst, a burning rainbow bridge between the mortal world (Midgard) and the realm of the gods (Asgard).

It was, in fact, Norwegian professor Kristian Birkeland (1867–1917) who first realized that the Northern Lights were associated with geomagnetic storms from the Sun. 

How he arrived at this idea remains a mystery, and it wasn’t until the 1970s, when precise measurements became possible through satellites, that Birkeland’s theories were confirmed to be correct

Birkeland noticed that an electron beam directed toward a magnetised terrella was guided toward the magnetic poles and produced rings of light around the poles and concluded that the aurora could be produced in a similar way. 

Birkeland used different vacuum chambers in his experiments on the aurora borealis around 1900. A working copy of the largest chamber is now on display on the National Museum of Science and Technology in Oslo, Norway.

Current research on the Northern lights

Today, we have many tools to forecast the Northern Lights accurately. Advances in space research, satellite technology, and ground-based observations have given us a better understanding of the northern lights.

One of the critical components of this research is the study of the Sun itself. Scientists closely monitor the Sun’s activity, tracking solar flares, sunspots, and the ejection of solar particles into space.

Satellites like the DSCOVR and ACE continuously collect data on the solar wind, a stream of charged particles (plasma) emitted by the Sun. This data includes the solar wind’s speed, density, and magnetic properties.

In addition to the satellites, we also have sophisticated ground-based observatories, contributing to a deeper understanding of auroral activity and improved northern lights forecasting.

 

Types of Aurora Forecasts

Aurora forecasts come in various types and timeframes, each serving different purposes. Here are the main types of Aurora Borealis predictions:

✅ The 11-year solar cycle forecast

✅ The 27-day Aurora forecast

✅ The 3-day Aurora forecast

✅ The 30-minute Aurora forecast 

Aurora Borealis Forecast Lofoten: The 27-day geomagnetic activity forecast
We talk more about different type of long term aurora forecast in a separate article. Click on the picture to read it.

Suppose you want to dive deeper into the technicalities of solar storms and the various types of space weather forecasts. In that case, you can look at our article about Weather and Aurora Forecasts for Tromsø and Lofoten. You will learn more about terms like coronal mass ejection, solar flares, or sunspots there.

In the following paragraphs, we will focus on the data provided by DSCOVR and ACE satellites, which is what Aurora tracking apps use for short-term (30-minute) northern lights forecasts.

How to read the aurora forecast when chasing northern lights?

When looking for tips on observing the Northern Lights, one of the most commonly mentioned recommendations is to check something called the KP Index.

However, there are more important variables to keep an eye on than this index. Before I get into the parameters for predicting the auroral activity in northern Norway, let me explain the Kp index and why it is not so relevant for a Northern Lights forecast, especially in high latitudes like Tromso and Lofoten.

What is the Kp Index?

The KP Index measures the Earth’s magnetic field disturbances caused by solar activity. It typically ranges from 0 to 9, where higher values indicate bigger disturbances.

Why are KP index alerts necessary?

While people often associate the KP Index with the aurora alerts, its primary purpose is to issue warnings regarding geomagnetic disturbances, which can impact GPS systems, powerlines, electrical grids, radio communication, and more.

 

Kp Index indicates how far south you can see the Aurora

 

The auroral oval, or the auroral zone, is a ring-shaped region near the polar regions where you can typically see the northern lights. Note that the auroral oval is centered around the magnetic poles, not the geographic poles.

When the Kp Index is elevated, it signifies increased geomagnetic activity, which can push the auroral oval towards lower latitudes. In other words, a higher Kp Index suggests that the aurora’s visible range extends farther south from the polar regions.

Best aurora tracking apps: Why Kp index is not the best parameter for northern lights forecast
The illustration was taken from the Norwegian Center for Space Weather (NOSWE)

Here’s How It Works:

✅ At Kp = 0: The lower edge of the auroral oval is approximately at 66 degrees MAGNETIC latitude. This means that the Northern Lights are typically visible at a geomagnetic latitude of 66 degrees. As the KP Index increases by one level, the lower edge of the auroral oval moves down toward lower geomagnetic latitudes by about 2 degrees. 

✅ At Kp = 1, The aurora would be visible at a magnetic latitude of around 64 degrees.

 At Kp = 2, It would move further south to a magnetic latitude of around 62 degrees.

✅ This trend continues until reaching Kp = 9: At this level, the auroral oval extends to a magnetic latitude of about 48 degrees.

In essence, the KP Index provides a rough estimate of how far south the Northern Lights (auroras) might be visible based on geomagnetic latitude.

Why is the Kp index a poor indicator for aurora alerts

❌ The KP Index looks at the Earth’s magnetic field’s activity in the last 3 hours. It tells us what happened recently and doesn’t predict what will happen next.

❌ The KP Index is calculated using data from multiple geomagnetic observatories worldwide. Interestingly enough, none of these stations are located in Norway. The closest stations to Norway are in the UK or Uppsala, Sweden, at relatively low latitudes. As a result, it does not accurately represent the conditions in specific regions.

Are You Planning to Visit Tromsø In Winter?

What is solar wind?

Think of solar wind like a breeze blowing from the Sun. This breeze consists of tiny charged particles – electrons and protons. The solar wind interacts with our planet’s magnetic field when it reaches Earth. This interaction mostly happens near the North and South Poles, where Earth’s magnetic field is strongest.

During this interaction, the particles from the solar wind bump into gases in our air, like nitrogen and oxygen. These gas molecules get excited and start glowing, which we see as the Northern Lights.

So, in simple terms, the Northern Lights happen because of the interaction between the solar wind and our planet’s magnetic field, with a bit of glowing gas action.

Why does solar wind speed matter for Aurora forecast?

The speed of the solar wind determines how quickly it reaches Earth. When fast-moving solar wind encounters Earth’s magnetosphere, it can generate stronger geomagnetic disturbances that trigger the northern lights. 

Why does solar wind density matter for Aurora forecast?

Solar wind density measures the amount of charged particles (electrons and protons) in the solar wind. More particles in the solar wind create more chances for collisions with gases in our atmosphere, which can result in brighter and more colorful auroras.

At the orbit of the Earth the average solar wind consists of a strongly ionized gas having a proton and electron density of about 3 – 10 particles per cubic centimeter, with an average speed of approximately 400 km/s.

Are you planning a trip to Lofoten? Check our library or resources!​

What are the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) and Bz?

The interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) is a magnetic field that extends through interplanetary space. It is carried by the solar wind, and it interacts with the magnetic fields of planets, including Earth. This interaction can cause geomagnetic disturbances and trigger the northern lights. 

In Northern Lights forecasting, “Bz” refers to the vertical component of the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF). Since space is 3-dimensional, there’s also a Bx and By value, but these two do not influence aurora activity. 

The Bz value plays a crucial role in determining the likelihood and intensity of the northern lights, and it is a much more important parameter than the Kp index. 

What Do The Bz Values Mean?

Negative Bz: When Bz is negative, it’s like the compass pointing towards the North Pole, meaning that most solar wind particles will come crashing into Earth’s atmosphere near the North Pole.

Positive Bz: Conversely, when Bz is positive, it’s like the compass pointing towards the South Pole, meaning that the solar wind particles will mostly hit near the South Pole.

Bz Value of 0: A Bz value of 0 means the compass is lying flat, parallel to Earth’s magnetic field. In this case, solar wind will sneak into our magnetosphere from both sides, creating auroras in the North and South Poles.

So, the orientation of the interplanetary magnetic field (Bz) influences which pole (North or South) experiences the most intense auroral activity.

In the northern hemisphere, you generally want a negative Bz for a higher chance of seeing the Northern Lights. Conversely, in the southern hemisphere, you would prefer a positive Bz for a better chance of witnessing the Southern Lights (Aurora Australis).

Can You See Aurora Borealis In Norway When Bz Is Positive?

Yes, you can. Although an Aurora in the north can happen with a positive Bz, a negative Bz is generally better. A negative Bz helps the solar wind grab the Earth’s magnetic field, which can lead to an Aurora more easily. So, a negative Bz is good. The more negative, the better.

Are you planning to visit Lofoten in winter?

What are the best Aurora Tracking Apps in Norway?

Now that you know checking the weather forecast is the first thing you should always do when attempting to watch the Northern Lights and that you should monitor the Bz value rather than the Kp index, let’s answer the question about the best apps for the Northern Lights in Norway. After all, that’s why you’re reading this article, right?

There are many aurora tracking apps available, some paid and some free, with varying levels of popularity. The ones I see people use the most are Norway Lights, My Aurora Forecast & Alerts, and Aurora Alerts. 

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean they are the best. Let me quickly go through them.

Norway Lights: the worst app for Aurora Alerts

I often see people using this Northern Lights app and wonder why they downloaded it and didn’t delete it immediately. 

This app was created by the Visit Norway site. I suppose they wanted to create an “Aurora Borealis predictor” that would give a simple answer to the question: “Is it possible to see the northern lights tonight?”

The app displays larger towns above the Arctic Circle and a call to action to try, wait, or go. 

However, what it shows is too simplistic and doesn’t help to predict northern lights in any meaningful way. 

It lacks detailed parameters and feels more like a commercial tool for promoting hotels and tour information than a reliable aurora forecasting tool.

My Aurora Forecast & Alerts: The most popular Northern Lights App

My Aurora Forecast & Alerts seems to be the most commonly used app among tourists traveling to Lofoten or Tromsø. However, I am not a big fan. 

People in Tromsø or Lofoten who use this aurora app often get excited when it indicates a high Kp index or disappointed when it’s low. However, as I explained earlier, the Kp index does not matter much in high latitudes. You can witness impressive displays with a Kp=0-1 and see nothing with Kp=6.

It’s important to monitor other parameters than just the Kp index, like the Bz value, and this aurora tracker focuses too much on the Kp index.

The app displays graphs with solar wind speed, density, and Bz. However, these graphs are hidden and challenging to interpret.

It’s great that it shows live aurora webcams so that you can see real-time auroras worldwide. However, that might be the only function (along with the high-resolution sun imagery) not available in other apps, and I wonder if it’s worth downloading this app just for that.

Aurora Alerts: Perfect App for Aurora Tracking

Aurora Alerts is my favorite northern lights forecast app. The user-friendly interface on both iOS and Android platforms makes accessing and understanding essential data easy.

The main screen provides real-time information from the DSCOVR satellite, displaying solar wind speed, IMF orientation (Bz), solar wind density, and the strength of the magnetic field (Bt).

What sets this aurora tracker apart is its intuitive color-coded system. As these values increase, they transition from green to yellow and orange, ultimately turning red for exceptionally high levels. 

This visual display makes it easy for beginners to quickly understand the chances of seeing the Northern Lights. It’s much simpler than trying to read graphs or complex data.

You also have an option to unlock alert services for a small fee. As I mentioned several times, you do not care about the current Kp index in Tromso and Lofoten. Instead, I recommend signing up for solar wind alerts and getting a notification when the Bz turns negative.

Note: In the Apple App Store, they call the app “Northern Light Aurora Forecast,” In the Google Play Store, you will find it under “Aurora Alerts – Northern Lights Forecast.”

Hello Aurora: Great Aurora Tracking App With Handy Map Feature

I haven’t known about the Hello Aurora app for long, but it quickly became my favorite. This app appears much simpler and easier to use than others, avoiding an overload of scientific details. 

It was created by Icelandic inventors, but it works fine for Norway as well.

On the main screen, you have the same data as in the Aurora Alerts app, although it’s presented in a slightly less user-friendly way.

I really appreciate the map function, which integrates a cloud cover forecast. You can also upload your pictures to the app and notify other users about your aurora sightings at that location and time, which I think is super cool. This way, you can see someone nearby captured an amazing aurora just 30 minutes or an hour ago.

Best websites for Northern Lights forecast

SpaceWeatherLive.com

If you want to learn about space weather or prefer websites over the aurora tracking apps, check out SpaceWeatherLive.com. 

This site displays space weather conditions, such as coronal holes facing Earth and solar flares that can trigger the Northern Lights. 

You can access real-time data on both solar and auroral activity.

best aurora tracking apps for northern lights in norway_Space Weather Live webpage
Aurora tracking tools and SpaceWeatherLive.com

NOAA / NWS Space Weather Prediction Center

NOAA is a page similar to SpaceWeatherLive.com, but it is just much less user-friendly.

Many aurora enthusiasts use these two sites for SWPC ovation aurora forecast, where they are checking the Hemispheric Power Index (HPI). 

The OVATION model estimates the total energy deposited in the Earth’s atmosphere in gigawatts, projecting up to 30 minutes into the future. 

Generally, auroras may not be visible when the HPI is below 20GW. Between 20 and 50GW, auroras might be visible closer to the poles. Above 50GW, auroras become more visible with significant activity. An HPI above 100 indicates a major geomagnetic storm.

Facebook Groups and Pages

Facebook is not a Northern Lights tracking app, but it is one of the most helpful ways to be notified of Northern Lights’ activity. We run two Aurora Alerts Groups – one focused on Lofoten and one on Tromsø. 

 

 

These groups are for alerts only, so you can turn on post notifications and get alerted when somebody posts an aurora picture. If you want to post your sightings, please always include the date, time, and approximate location.

 

 

In addition to the Facebook groups, we like to follow FB pages about Space Weather that alert us about sunspots, coronal mass ejections, or solar flares in advance. Among our favorite ones are Space Weather by SolarHam and SpaceWeatherLive. 

Best aurora tracking tools: Space weather facebook pages

Are you planning a trip to Lofoten? Check our library or resources!

Summary: Understanding the Northern Lights forecast

I know this article was quite long and filled with technical details. However, understanding the Northern Lights is challenging, and I’ve only just scratched the surface of their science.

If there’s one thing to take away from this article, it’s that forecasting the Northern Lights is similar to forecasting the weather in northern Norway. All data might suggest that it will rain, but in the end, it doesn’t.

It’s the same with the Northern Lights – the data might suggest the aurora will be visible tonight, but they don’t specify exactly where, when, how strong, or what shapes or colors will appear.

The best action is to dress appropriately, head out, patiently wait for them to appear, and be grateful when they do.

However, if you want to increase your chances of seeing the Northern Lights, you can either join a guided tour or use the above-mentioned aurora tracking apps to make an informed decision about chasing the northern lights.

Interactive Map of Tromso
When chasing the northern lights independently, it is important to choose a suitable location with a photogenic view. We put our favorite locations around Tromso in this interactive map.

Weather and Aurora Forecast: CheckList

I assume that you are already in northern Norway, somewhere around Tromsø or Lofoten, and that you are contemplating whether you should go out of your warm, cozy cabin or hotel.

Well, let’s put aside the idea that the best thing would be to stay in one of those fancy Northern Lights igloos with a glass roof.

Here is what I would advise you to do:

✅ Check the weather forecast. Look at the percentage of low and middle clouds. If it is a cloudless night, get ready to go out.

✅ If the weather forecast predicts close to 100% cloud cover in your location, scout for an area with fewer clouds.

 Keep an eye on your Northern Lights alert app (Aurora Alerts or Hello Aurora are the best mobile apps, in my opinion).

 Forget about the Kp index.

✅ Keep an eye on the Bz getting close to 0 or, ideally, negative.

✅ If the Bz turns negative and other parameters increase as well, then BINGO, you have about 30 minutes until something SHOULD happen.

✅ Most importantly, be patient and look at the sky more than the aurora tracking apps.

Northern lights photographed from Skårungen in eastern Lofoten

Guided Aurora Chasing in Tromsø

In 2005, five companies sold Northern Lights products in Tromsø. Nowadays, there are more than 100 tour providers have northern lights tours in their portfolio, which does make it challenging to choose the best northern lights tour.  

However, there are few significant differences between northern light tours from different providers. For example, they all operate with the same weather and aurora forecast, and the guides from other companies share information with each. Therefore, the success between companies might be less than you think. 

We believe that there is no “one-size-fits-all” tour that is best for everybody; that’s why we discuss various aspects such as group size, price, type of vehicle, etc in the article on how to choose the best northern lights tour in Tromso. 

👉 Did you leave booking an aurora hunting tour to the last minute? Check what is currently available in Tromsø.

Guided Aurora Chasing in Lofoten

Lofoten is a spectacular location for watching and photographing the Northern Lights. However, unlike Tromsø, where over 100 companies offer Northern Lights tours, options in Lofoten are more limited. Only a few local companies provide tours using vans and minibuses, with the majority based in Svolvær.

We can recommend Lofoten Lights or Svinøya Rorbuer, both based in Svolvær. 

Thank you for taking the time to read through our article about the best aurora tracking apps.

If you found our guide helpful, we would be grateful if you could share it with fellow travelers.

Best regards from Lofoten, Radka and Ivar ❤️

PS: If you still have any questions about the Northern Lights, feel free to ask us in the comments. We’re here to help and happy to provide answers.

Picture of Ivar & Radka

Ivar & Radka

Hi! We are Ivar & Radka, an international couple who runs the Guide to Lofoten. We met in Trondheim and lived together in western Norway, Narvik and Tromsø. At the moment we call western Lofoten our home. We hope our page will make it easier for you to explore the beautiful places that made us chose Norway for our home.

MORE ABOUT US

Share:

Facebook
Twitter
Pinterest
LinkedIn

Related Posts

Easter in Norway

Easter in Norway: What to expect from Norwegian Påske

Easter in Norway is something truly special. It’s not just another holiday for Norwegians; it feels like a heartfelt celebration of leaving behind the long, dark winter and stepping into the light, hopeful spring days. During Easter, you’ll notice cities and towns becoming remarkably quiet as most Norwegians head to their cozy mountain cabins, eager to catch the season’s final days of skiing.

We’re not here to give you a long lesson on Norwegian Easter traditions – we’ll touch on those just a bit. Instead, we want to provide some handy tips for visiting Norway during Easter.

Ferry Routes in Lofoten Islands, Norway

Ferry Routes in Lofoten: Information and Timetables (2024)

The Lofoten archipelago comprises seven main islands extending off mainland Norway. Finding schedules for these local ferry routes and express boats in Lofoten can be challenging. In this article, we aim to provide comprehensive information about the ferry routes in Lofoten and surrounding regions, including their schedules, prices, and capacities, so you can better plan your road trip through Lofoten and northern Norway.

Tromso in winter

Flying a Drone in Tromso Can Get You Deported

Tromsø, the largest city in Northern Norway with 70,000 residents, is renowned for the northern lights, thanks to its position within the auroral oval. With drones becoming increasingly affordable, it’s no surprise that tourists wish to capture aerial footage and photos of their vacation spots. However, drone flying in Tromsø and its immediate vicinity is prohibited due to its close proximity to Tromsø Airport. Moreover, this ban is strictly enforced, and violators face hefty fines, confiscation of their drone, and possible expulsion from the country.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *