German amateur aurora-spotters Karsten Hanskul and Dirk Langenbach, frustrated with the space weather agencies’ imprecise aurora forecasts, decided to build their own aurora detector. They turned it into a kit, the Simple Aurora Monitor, so anyone could build one.
The magnetic field measurements that other space weather agencies release are based on a small number of geomagnetic observatories scattered across the planet. Noaa, for example, relies on data from the USGS’ fourteen observatories spread across 15,000 kilometers from Guam to Puerto Rico. This may be fine for the power companies and satellite operators who depend on space weather forecasts, but not for the individual aurora-spotter who wants to know whether the lights will appear where they live.
The Simple Aurora Monitor that Hanskul and Langenbach developed, now in its third iteration, is a geomagnetic sensor that measures Earth’s local magnetic field. As a solar storm sends particles crashing into Earth’s magnetic field, the lines of magnetic force bend and the local magnetic field changes all the way to the ground. The monitor detects those changes, letting you know that conditions are good to see an aurora.
Hanskul and Langenbach sell Simple Aurora Monitor kits to amateurs in Europe who want to build their own geomagnetic observatory. Ultimately they hope to build a network of amateur geomagnetic observatories that will let them forecast aurorae over Europe. In 2009 they reached an agreement with American amateur astronomer Whitham Reeve to sell the Simple Aurora Monitor to amateurs in the rest of the world.