North Dakota Dual Aurora Camera (NoDDAC)

 

Green aurora against a black background with data listed at the bottom of the image

Aurora captured by NoDDAC, February 6, 2021

What is NoDDAC?

NoDDAC is a pair of consumer-grade cameras—one allsky, one north-facing—installed at Martens Observatory in North Dakota. The cameras provide a public livestream of the night sky and are able to identify and tweet when they see aurora. Since it was installed in December, 2020, NoDDAC has captured many auroras, including overhead coronas, pulsating aurora, and STEVE. You can see the latest images here.

 


North-facing (above) and allsky (below) views of a particularly strong auroral display
that NoDDAC captured on March 20, 2021 during a Kp 6 geomagnetic storm. 

How can I use it?

NoDDAC is intended to help aurora chasers track the Northern Lights and to provide regular citizen science data. While scientific aurora studies are often centered on high latitudes, most aurora chasers or potential aurora chasers live at mid-latitudes. The general public benefits from real time visual auroral data, while aurora guides, photographers, and enthusiasts all use visual observations of the aurora in their daily lives. Many rare auroral phenomena like STEVE, dune aurora, and SAR arcs occur in these areas.

View NoDDAC:

 In the archive you can view every image the camera took from a particular night (left).  Screenshot of the NoDDAC north-facing camera livestream (right).


In the archive you can view every image the camera took from a particular night (left).
Screenshot of the NoDDAC north-facing camera livestream (right).

 

How does NoDDAC benefit science?

While a network of scientific-grade aurora cameras provides coverage across Canada, until now there has been a gap in the northern midwest of the US. Filling this is important. When aurora cameras assist citizen scientists and inspire others to join the chase, they benefit not only the chasers, but science itself. Photographs and videos of auroras are important to science; the appearance of aurora (shape, movement, color, etc.) can reveal magnetic and ionospheric properties. Advances in technology mean that consumer-grade cameras can provide high quality images. They offer location-specific data so that specific auroral structures can be correlated with images from other aurora cameras, citizen scientists, and satellites. The dual cameras provide another perspective to triangulate the height of auroral structures. Aurora cameras also offer high time-resolution data useful in studying fast-moving structures.

Who runs the cameras?

NoDDAC is a project by University of North Dakota student Vincent Ledvina, in collaboration with Aurorasaurus, Live Aurora Network, and the University of North Dakota. You can read more about the story of NoDDAC on our blog.

What are the technical specifications?

NoDDAC was installed in December 2020 on a trailer at Martens Observatory, operated by the University of North Dakota. On-site power, internet, and low light pollution (bortle-2 class) makes this an ideal location.

A telescope dome and a trailer in a field

Martens Observatory, ND. NoDDAC cameras are attached to trailer.

The cameras are housed in off-the-shelf waterproof Pelco enclosures supplied by Live Aurora Network. Computer hardware allows them to be powered continuously and upload images to the internet, as well as the ability to remotely cycle power. They are controlled with IPTimelapse software, allowing full remote control of exposure settings like shutter speed, aperture, and ISO, as well as image capture and upload over file transfer protocol (FTP).

LiveAuroraNetwork hosts the north-facing aurora camera on their website and app. The camera livestreams video to YouTube. Video stills are also uploaded daily to cloud storage and used to generate timelapses that show the entire night from one hour after sunset to one hour before sunrise. The allsky camera also records images to the cloud storage server and generates timelapses to show the entire night’s activity. Photos from both are archived and available to the public, abiding by the FAIR (Findable, Reusable, Interoperable, Reusable) data protocols.


North-facing camera specs

A photo shows the different internal parts of NoDDAC's north-facing camera

Photo by Vincent Ledvina

The north-facing camera is a Sony a7s ii camera with a Sony 24mm f/1.4 GM lens, livestreaming 1080p 60fps video of the northern sky to YouTube. These are used in other LiveAuroraNetwork aurora cameras. The IPTimelapse software uses a proprietary algorithm to detect aurora based on the amount of green pixels present in the video, sending a signal to an FTP server when aurora is detected.  The signal also triggers an automated Twitter post of a ~10s clip of the display, which will appear on the Aurorasaurus website.

Additional Details:

  • 12.2-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor
  • High-sensitivity video; native ISO up to 102,400
  • 84° diagonal field of view

 

Allsky camera specs 

A photo shows the internal parts of the allsky camera

Photo by Vincent Ledvina

The allsky camera is a Canon T6 camera with a Rokinon 8mm f/3.5 diagonal fisheye lens that takes 60-second JPEG photos of the entire sky every 2 minutes and uploads images to a web server hosted by Live Aurora Network. This camera is especially helpful for assessing cloud coverage and is particularly useful when the aurora appears overhead, or if STEVE appears outside the field of view of the north-facing camera.

Additional Details:

  • 18.0-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor
  • JPEG image capture with 2 min. cadence (60s, f/3.5, ISO 3200)
  • 167° diagonal field of view

How can I get involved with this project?

NoDDAC will be integrated into Aurorasaurus citizen science and looks to collaborate with other efforts. It already serves as an aurora chasing tool for groups across the northern tier of the United States and southern Canada, such as the Great Lakes Aurora Chasers (50,000+ members) and Upper Midwest Aurora Chasers (4000+ members). The live north and allsky views give aurora chasers information on auroral activity and cloud cover—the two most important factors to monitor. Aurorasaurus will integrate NoDDAC into its auroral oval map with tweets and icons displayed alongside other citizen scientist observations. NoDDAC is already integrated into the Northern Sky Astronomical Society, North Dakota’s largest astronomy club, and we are interested in integrating allsky camera data into the Mid-latitude Allsky-imaging Network for GeoSpace Observations (MANGO) and Cameras and Allsky Meteor Surveillance (CAMS) projects.

What are your future plans?

Updated 6.23.2021

NoDDAC is currently operational and providing view of the night sky to thousands of aurora chasers, but we have plans to increase the quality, effectiveness, and scientific potential of the project.

  • We will be swapping the allsky camera from a Rokinon 8mm f/3.5 diagonal fisheye lens to a Sigma 8mm f/3.5 circular fisheye lens, giving the allsky camera a full view of the night sky.
  • We plan to calibrate the two cameras, using consumer-grade color calibration palettes to ensure aurora colors are displayed accurately.  This is important for making NoDDAC data science-grade and will make any spectral analysis of aurora easier.
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