Picture of Spectrographic Auroral Indicator - A Northern Lights Warning Device
3/16/2011 EDIT: The Wing Kp Predicted Geomagnetic Activity Index model is now deployed and operational. Costello is now considered non-operational and will be discontinued on 23 Mar 2011. Comments and questions are welcomed at SWPC.CustomerSupport@noaa.gov

The Wing Kp Predicted Geomagnetic Activity Index model is known to perform well for large geomagnetic storms and includes both a 1 hour and a 4 hour advance prediction of activity. Wing Kp 7-day model output is available in ascii data list format at http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/wingkp/wingkp_list.txt and via Anonymous FTP at ftp://ftp.swpc.noaa.gov/pub/lists/wingkp


Build a visual indicator of the Northern Lights using the Arduino. Know when to go outside and look up, no matter where you live!

For years I have struggled to find a good way of alerting me to Northern Lights activity. I have tried email alerts and real-time monitoring software. Nothing worked well and I would regularly miss good displays.

Enter the Costello Geomagnetic Activity Index. Simply put, this is a prediction of auroral activity. It is pretty reliable and gives about an hour's notice of northern lights activity. The problem is, of course, you have to keep checking the web page to catch any jump in the Index.

What we will build is a visual representation (an LED display) of the current level of auroral activity. The build consists of three main parts: a PHP Web scraping script, a Processing script, and an Arduino script. The LED lights green for low activity, blue for moderate, red for high activity and white for GET OUTSIDE NOW! I have mounted this in an old clock face so it is always visible in my living room. Essentially this is a poor man's Ambient Orb costing under $40 to build compared to the Ambient Orb's $150 + S/H + $6.95/mo for custom monitoring.

Right off the bat I wish to thank Tod E. Kurt for his Spooky Arduino projects and his help getting me through my own stupidity. It is his scripts this project is based on and I strongly recommend checking out his blog for great Arduino projects.
rbateman4 years ago
Disregard that:

Apparently they just have a new index for Kp reporting. It's called the Wing Index and is actually updated every 15 minutes as opposed to every 3 hours.

rbateman4 years ago
I'm working on something similar to this project for my first Arduino project on my own. In the process of looking into the way that the OP did this, I found that unfortunately the Costello Index is no longer being maintained or supported by NOAA. The last entry is from March 23, 2011.

I went ahead and tried to track down some other source for the data, and found a twitter account that gives Kp forecasts. The rss is already done by twitter and is available here:

el kabong4 years ago
This is great! I plan on tackling this as one of my first arduino projects-- hopefully before Christmas. I have two questions right off the bat.

How high does the index have to be for one to see the northern lights? I know latitude has a lot to do with it, is there a formula?

Also, it looks like the NOAA is switching to a new prediction model on November 22nd-- besides tweaking the PHP script, do you think that'll affect the project?

youevolve (author)  el kabong4 years ago
I'm in northern Michigan and I cannot see the lights until the index hits a 5 or better. As far as I know, there is no formula. When things get REAL active the lights have been seen in Mexico....

My suggestion for this project is to explore using Processing to parse the data rather than using the PHP/server setup that I created. I know it is possible, but just haven't been able to return to the project to work out the code.

I had not heard NOAA was switching models. Can you provide a link?
Here's the link:

I don't really code (yet), but I'm just starting to mess around in Processing (which of course, is nice for also messing around with Arduino). I didn't know you could do html scrapers in processing though... It'd be neat to put the whole thing in one sketch!
claudif5 years ago
Very interesting project! Great work. I love things that tell you about the real world out there.
Greemsurfer7 years ago
not bad for us old people who can't remember anything...nice job...
LinuxH4x0r7 years ago
Da_Fudge7 years ago
This is really cool!!! shame I live in Australia.
-Aj- Da_Fudge7 years ago
pfft, yeah so we dont have northern lights. ..but weve got AUSTRALIA!!! ouwstrayleuh my son!! BLIIMEY
Yeah... but we've got the northern lights... :D
eight Da_Fudge7 years ago
Yep. I'm in Perth. Closest I get is an Aurora Australis... But for that I'd have to go a long way south. Hey very involved and well done presentation. I thank you !
Vermin Da_Fudge7 years ago
There's an Aurora Australis Yahoo group that you can sign up to. As well as sending you alerts via email they also run a phone alert chain.

The group is here: http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/southern-aurora/

I also collect all the relevant southern stats here: http://efpeters.customer.netspace.net.au/pub/Aurora.html
(the moon phase graphic seems to be broken - I'll have to look into that).

Excellent instructable, I may have a go at this. 5 Stars.
youevolve (author)  Da_Fudge7 years ago
Aussies get the Southern Lights aka the Aurora Australis. The behavior of this display often mirrors the activity of the Aurora Borealis, but covers less populated areas. However, if the display is strong enough and you know when to go look, you can see them too! Look here for an image of the Southern lights.
rubyranger7 years ago
Pretty impressive. I can say "I knew you when". Ruby
ewilhelm7 years ago
Have you considered entering this in to the Let It Glow Contest?
youevolve (author)  ewilhelm7 years ago
I did, but, despite my main form of transportation being a bike, I couldn't use the prizes. The other main form of transportation here is horses, and they don't take kindly to bright flashy things going by them.