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The Aurora Network Review

The new Live Aurora App boasts real time visual aurora alerts using live HD Sony cameras and local knowledge regarding locations and accommodation, all built into one handy subscription app.  How does it compare to other apps?

Firstly, we need to talk about subscription apps – and this one is promoted on Android as a “free” app, and the first month is free as a “trial”.  But it’s not until you’ve installed it when you get the front screen asking you for your payment details that you realise it’s a paid-for subscription app that you can cancel at any time.  For the purposes of this review we installed it on the trial but then cancelled it the later that day once we’d checked out funcionality.  Strangely it kept working after we’d cancelled the subscription, presumably thats the free trial carrying on, which is nice.

Aurora apps generally use NOAA space-weather forecasts and some apps use other satellite data for predicting the chance of seeing the aurora, but this app doesn’t do that; it is not a predictive app but a real time one.  There is at least one other app that utilises visual real-time user reporting, based on what is seen in the sky (but by humans); the free “Glendale aurora app”.  Aurorasaurus is a good citizen science website that also uses real-time user reporting.

Looking at the app the interface is simple enough and easy to use, asking people to set their notifications by the size of the aurora presumably visible. (Instead of KP index and Bz, and your own location which many other apps use.)  This only gives you alerts for cameras that are currently on, with clear skies and where the aurora is visible on that camera.  You can choose camera locations for alerts, currently limited to mostly Iceland, but with 1 camera in both Norway and Alaska.  Although the aurora is a global phenomenon, it can be very localised and quite transient, which means that with the current array of cameras it’s not very useful for aurora alerts for people outside of their camera locations.  If you’re local to Alaska, Iceland and Norway then this could prove invaluable especially if you’re a local aurora guide, or a plucky group of aurora adventurers out one night on an aurora hunt chasing around the Alaskan, Icelandic or Norway countryside.

It has some other helpful functions too, such as a link to Google Maps to get directions to the camera locations, and links to AirBnB to find local accommodation.  Anyone new to Maps or AirBnB will find these useful, but I think more seasoned aurora hunters will already be making use of these apps to find their way to dark skies, and friendly accommodation.

The cameras that they have installed are exceptional for real-time live video of night skies.  The Sony A7Sii is a great full frame low-light camera with exceptionally low noise at high ISOs and you can see one in action in Alaska on YouTube here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=riHyo5ilnl4

This YouTube link is to one of The Aurora Network’s cameras which is accessible via the paid-for app but this, along with the others are all searchable on YouTube and therefore seemingly viewable for free?  I couldn’t click on the image in the app directly but a search in YouTube was easy enough to do and presumably something that the developers will fix in future otherwise why would users need to pay the subscription fee to view their Aurora Cams?

Later on the aurora made an appearance in Norway and Iceland and notifications came streaming in, (on my phone notifications arrived from Glendale app and Aurorawatch UK too, all within minutes of each other.) You can then view the cameras and the HD and high quality and it looked good. Stars were twinkling away with the plough easily recognisable and Mizar and Alcor separated!  The app shows the current weather, with a few hours forecast, which no doubt will be useful for anyone local to the cameras thinking about whether to plan heading out or not.  If we were out and about Aurora hunting in Iceland or Norway – this would be very useful indeed.

Screenshot of one of the cams with live Aurora on display.

In summary, if you happen to be in the part of the world where the cameras are then this would be a great little app to have on the ground to help you chase around for the aurora in real time. (We, being based in England, were unable to test this but would be willing to rush off to Iceland to do so if someone wanted to sponsor us!)  Other than that, there are plenty of other free apps and webcams that you could use if you want to especially if you’re based in the UK, or any other mid-latitude part of the world where you might hope to catch the Aurora on the Horizon.

If you want to view the Aurora on live cameras – these are very good, but it’s also worth looking around for other free options such as http://www.aurora-service.eu/sky-cameras/ and https://seetheaurora.com/webcams and there are countless recorded and processed Aurora videos on YouTube.  If you want North American Aurora Cams – you can’t get much better than AuroraMax at Yellowknife https://astronomynorth.com/auroramax/high-definition-1080p/

If you’re in the UK using https://aurorawatch.lancs.ac.uk/shetland/ is a good idea – they have a magnetometer in the Shetland isles and one in Lancaster, used on conjunction with the Glendale app and you can’t go wrong, https://aurora-alerts.uk/.   We also do love the very reliable and free Shetland Aurora Webcams here https://www.shetlandwebcams.com/blog/live-aurora-from-shetland/

You can find out more about the Live Aurora Network here, we’re watching and hoping that it’s future developments make it more useful for us in the UK https://liveauroranetwork.com/

 

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