The Future Is Here
We may earn a commission from links on this page

Citizen Scientists Are Helping Map the Aurora Like Never Before

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

The aurora borealis that took place on St. Patrick's day was spectacular, but aside from being the strongest geomagnetic storm in a decade, there's another reason it was special. It was the first time that thousands of citizen scientists tweeted about the aurora to help space weather scientists construct a detailed global map of the event.

"Aurorasaurus" is a project launched this year by an interdisciplinary team of space scientists, computer scientists and science educators, and supported by the National Science Foundation's INSPIRE program. It's one of the very first citizen science efforts focused on the northern lights. During the St. Patrick's day storm, Aurorasaurus gathered over 35,000 aurora-related tweets and reports via the project's website, iOS and Android apps. The project assembled sightings, placed them on a map, and used the information to share over 361 notifications alerting citizens when the aurora might be visible in their region.


Here's a time-lapse showing how the number of reported sightings changed throughout the day on March 17th as auroral activity peaked and diminished:

The image above and the two below were submitted by citizen scientists through Aurorasaurus. The project is ongoing—the researchers hopes to continue collecting information through its new platform as "ground truth" for improving auroral models.


So even if you didn't get to see this particular storm, hop on over to Aurorasaurus, and with a little luck maybe you'll catch the next one. [NASA Earth Observatory]

Images via NASA Earth Observatory


Contact the author at or follow her on Twitter.