A Speeding Ticket for Aurora

Coordinating Citizen Science
with paper and stamps

filled out aurora reporting form with red and green felt markers 

Aurora Chasing is all about the Aurora Catching. There is a lot more to aurora chasing that hanging a photo on above the fireplace. It's science, if it is done right.

The International Geophysical Year (I.G.Y.) of 1957-8 was a global effort to understand the Earth using coordinated global observations.

A big part of this was understanding the effect of space weather on the Earth and the interactions with it's geomagnetic field and atmosphere.

At this time there were no satellites that could image the earth easily, so a coordinated visual observation effort of the aurora was started. Observers were supplied with visual aurora observation forms on 4x6” cards which could be filled out and mailed to collection centres.

This is what the front of a form looked like, filled out with a report from a large aurora display:

filled out aurora image form

The sketches and symbols were standardized so that observations could be combined. Here are some of the conventions:

aurora form notation legend

The back of the card even included a simple scale to determine the altitude angle where the feature was seen:

back of the form acted as an azimuth measuring device

The information from thousands of observation cards was used to create synoptic surveys (maps) of auroral activity across continents, providing some of the first big-picture data on visual aurora.

Here is a synoptic survey map that used reports to make a continent-wide view of on night:

map of north america combining aurora reports to show larger patterns


Recreating the form

It is of course hard to find pads of these forms 60 years later. We decided to take on the challenge of recreating the form in a printable format so anyone can use their home printer and make up a few and maybe start recording aurora sights. Of course aurora reporting has evolved and aurorasaurus.org is the best place to log your sightings and upload photos, but keeping a nice paper diary of your experiences and impressions is a big part of aurora chasing!

Here is the modern form, faithful to the original as much as possible:

auroral reporting form IGY

The top section is a faithful reproduction of the front of one of these forms. which can be quickly filled out on-site by an observer, the sky split into 4 quadrants. the bottom section is a faithful reproduction of the simplified auroral forms and labelling conventions used to fill out the forms. The activity and motion annotations were added later on as an evolution of the original format.

Download the PDF

A PDF printable on standard 8.5x11" (or just rescale for A4)

Update: scans of the original forms!

Martin Potter of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Ottawa Chapter, graciously provided his original forms from when he was a volunteer observer during the IGY. He was an observer for the London, Ontario, area during that time. Thank you so much for the fantastic contribution, Martin! A sample form has been scanned at 300dpi here:

Aurora reporting form scan, front

Aurora reporting form scan, back


For more on the history and context, check out these short excerpts and papers by the people that organized the visual aurora recording project:

Millman, Peter M. "A Visual Auroral Programme for the I.G.Y.",
Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 51, p.186, June 1957

Gartlein, C. W.; Millman, P. M. "Visual Auroral Observing for North America in the I.Q.S.Y.", 
Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 58, p.1, February 1964


Special thanks to Martin Potter of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Ottawa Chapter, who graciously provided his original forms from when he was a volunteer observer during the IGY. 

Thanks to all the Canadian Observer/Volunteers that participated in the IGY and IQSY in the 1950s and 1960s

This digital reproduction hand drawn by Jeremy Kuzub for Capture North Project

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