Aurorasaurus, 10 Years Later

An all-red aurora captured in Independence, Mo., on October 24, 2011. Image Courtesy of Tobias Billings (

An all-red aurora captured in Independence, Mo., on October 24, 2011. Image Courtesy of Tobias Billings (

On October 24, 2011 a solar storm brought beautiful auroras that lit the skies with red colors visible as far south as Alabama!

“I had heard of Twitter,” remembers Dr. Liz, “so I got online that night and could see a lot of people recording their observations.” For the first time, solar maximum—the most active period in the sun’s 11-year cycle—would coincide with social media and digital cameras. Auroras would be more common, and technology would make them more easily recordable. This sparked an idea for the platform that became Aurorasaurus. It grew over time and continues to grow as it is cultivated by so many people.

People sit around a long banquet table, sipping drinks and chatting.

Aurora lunch at the American Geophysical Union’s 2018 fall meeting. Photo by Dr. Liz MacDonald.

As that starting idea turns 10, we are looking back at the last decade and reflecting with tremendous gratitude on the community that has made Aurorasaurus possible. To each citizen scientist who has taken part, to each colleague who has contributed, and to each of our Aurorasaurus Ambassadors, we are thankful! We’re planning a bigger (hopefully in-person) celebration for our solar cycle 11 year anniversary next year, but we want to share perspectives from community members to celebrate all we have accomplished together.

A landscape with a sky crossed by green and purple bands of aurora, along with other sky phenomena: STEVE, the ISS, and Comet NEOWISE.

Photo of aurora, STEVE, Comet NEOWISE, and a meteor, by Aurorasaurus Ambassador Donna Lach, 2020.

It is heartwarming to share the excitement about the aurora with like-minded people from all walks of life around the world. My hobby is taking aurora photos, but when I found out that I could contribute to its study and be a citizen scientist a whole new world opened up to me. It gave my hobby a purpose. It gave me something to look for inside the aurora. It connected me to the academic scientists with a bond that is rewarding for both sides.
—Donna Lach, aurora chaser, Manitoba, Canada

Two men watch aurora

Citizen scientists and Aurorasaurus Ambassadors Vincent Ledvina and Andy Witteman chase aurora together in Alaska. Photo by Vincent Ledvina

It is a community of like-minded individuals, each with their talents and backgrounds, contributing to unique and inspiring projects. Through these projects, I have met, talked to, and even aurora chased with members of Aurorasaurus, and thus a small community has quickly become lifelong friends! Aurora chasing and its wonderful community opened the door for me to go back to school and pursue my ultimate goal of a career in science! Aurorasaurus has been harmonious with furthering my education here at UAF; it lets the creative side of the physics I have learned here come forth in fun and exciting ways.
—Andy Witteman, student, University of Alaska Fairbanks

A young man works on an enclosed camera that points toward the horizon

Vincent Ledvina with NoDDAC. Photo by Shawna Schill.

One night in 2015, I saw on that many in my area were seeing aurora. That night, I captured my first aurora photo. Because of citizen science, I was hooked—and since then, aurora chasing and studying the elusive lights have become a way of life for me. I have had the opportunity to present my research to a unique audience of scientists and aurora chasers, giving me valuable insight into how I can improve my skills as a science communicator. As a student intern, I collaborated with Aurorasaurus to spearhead the North Dakota Dual Aurora Camera (NoDDAC) project, which aims to provide live views of the night sky and detect any auroras that may occur in North Dakota.
—Vincent Ledvina, Physics student, University of North Dakota

An illustrated fox watches an illustrated aurora, with different levels of intensity on a toggle at the bottom

Still from KpFox showing an artistic take on moderate, Kp5 conditions. KpFox was created by Aurorasaurus Ambassador Jeremy Kuzub

The Aurorasaurus project, the ambassador community, and the team have made me feel a part of the citizen and the science community. They are a bridge between the research community and the enthusiast community, making each more accessible to the other by saying ‘these people each have something to offer one another’. Aurorasaurus supports and catalyzes work that otherwise may have not found its voice in the research and citizen science community.
—Jeremy Kuzub, data visualization specialist and creator of KpFox, AuroraDome, and AurorEye

A woman holding a red plush brontosaurus stands next to a man in front of a scientific poster.

Valerie Svaldi, Rory Aurorasaurus, and Chris Ratzlaff at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting 2019. Photo by Chris Ratzlaff.

Aurorasaurus has broken down the barrier between the scientific and enthusiast Aurora communities. Even if that barrier was somewhat imagined, Aurorsaurus reinforces a collaborative interaction between these communities. As a result, I’ve been able to work closely with scientists studying the aurora to help uncover and resolve gaps in our knowledge about the phenomena.
—Chris Ratzlaff, Alberta Aurora Chasers Lead (and namer of STEVE)

Valerie Svaldi gives an AGU 2018 poster presentation looking at numerous reports of STEVE to Aurorasaurus. Photo by Chris Ratzlaff.

Valerie Svaldi gives an AGU 2018 poster presentation looking at numerous reports of STEVE to Aurorasaurus. Photo by Chris Ratzlaff.

My mom has always been super supportive and interested in whatever I am doing in my school or research, even if she is not from a STEM background. When I introduced my mom to the Aurorasaurus app, she immediately wanted to get involved and would boast to anyone and everyone that she is now an ‘official Aurorasaurus tweet verifier’. It always makes me smile when I hear her update me on the existing posts or news she saw on Aurorasaurus, and it also makes her feel like she is more involved and informed on my research.
—Valerie Svaldi, current Master’s student, Colorado School of Mines

Aurora citizen science would not be possible without the perspective and expertise of citizen scientists. Citizen science is, at its heart, about people. This community of individuals coming together to learn more about the aurora is perpetually amazing and we can’t wait to continue growing with you!

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