Northern lights to be streamed nightly online

Most of us never get a chance to see the northern lights for real, as they only tend to be visible in the far north – but now there’s an alternative.

Canada’s new AuroraMAX website offers live coverage of the aurora borealis every night from dusk until 4am, with the program running through the season from now until mid-May.

The website, created through a collaboration between the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the University of Calgary, the City of Yellowknife and Astronomy North, broadcast its first images last night.

As well as nightly broadcasts of the aurora, it aims to explain the science behind the phenomenon and offer tips for seeing and photographing auroras. The website will also include an image gallery with still photos and movies from previous nights.

“Armchair skywatchers everywhere can now discover the wonder of the northern lights live on their home computer screen,” says CSA president Steve MacLean.

“We hope that watching the dance of the northern lights will make you curious about the science of the sky and the relationship we have with our own star, the Sun.”

Auroras are caused as charged particles from the sun collide with gases in Earth’s upper atmosphere. The launch of AuroraMAX coincides with the beginning of aurora season in northern Canada, which generally begins in late August or early September and ends in May.

The aim is to repeat the program in the years to come. Fans will be able to follow AuroraMAX through the solar maximum – the most active period of the sun’s 11-year cycle – which should produce more frequent and intense auroras. The next solar maximum is expected in 2013.