Meet the 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.
About The Forecaster
Astronomy North Society
James Pugsley moved to the Northwest Territories in 2002 in search of astronomical experiences that were radically different from Toronto RASC meetings.
Thanks in large part to Yellowknife’s proximity to the North Magnetic Pole and the semi-arid climate, Pugsley enthusiastically developed an addiction for time-lapse aurora photography, 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 addiction came his realization that global predictions on the web really didn’t match what he and thousands of other skywatchers were observing near 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 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.