The Volunteer Insomniac Behind Astronomy North's Daily Aurora Forecast
NIGHT SHIFT: Astronomy North Society President James Pugsley has been observing space weather data and auroral behaviour above Yellowknife since 2003.
AN:“Why forecast the auroras above Yellowknife?”
JP:“Yellowknife is one of the few places on Earth where the sky has a direct impact on the economy, so it really makes sense to have a local forecast available for tourism professionals, night sky photographers and amateur astronomers.”
About The Forecaster
Astronomy North Society
James Pugsley moved to the Northwest Territories in 2003 to explore new astronomical perspectives that were simply not available at Toronto RASC meetings.
Thanks to Yellowknife’s proximity to the North Magnetic Pole, a semi-arid climate, and the rapidly improving camera technology of the 2000s, James’ general interest in the aurora evolve into a fascination with geomagnetic activity, the Sun-Earth relationship and the nature of plasma physics as it was uncovered by time-lapse aurora photography.
What began as a hobby soon evolved into a nightly routine of charging batteries, driving into the bush and recording the sky with multiple cameras, accompanied by a new addiction to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Centre website and the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute’s online Aurora Forecast. But along with this new aeronomical endeavour came a realization that the global predictions available on the web really didn’t match what he and thousands of other skywatchers were observing above Yellowknife.
Even on nights when geomagnetic field conditions fizzled to Kp=2 or Kp=3, Yellowknifers were still enjoying intense substorm events capable of filling the sky with active auroras approximately every four hours. To observers on the ground, the well developed global forecasts appeared to be wrong every night, largely due to local perspectives.
It became clear that the community needed a local solution, so in 2004 the society launched the Yellowknife Daily Aurora Forecast – the first community-specific aurora forecast in the world. This new service examined the probability of auroras at 68°N magnetic latitude and supported both local skywatchers as well as aurora tourism, enhancing aurora viewing in one of the few locations on the planet where the sky has an impact on the economy.
James now resides in Whitehorse, but continues to volunteer in the Northwest Territories both as a forecaster and as an educator, visiting Yellowknife each aurora season to offer free space weather training and science support to tourism industry professionals.