Astronomy North is looking for a new lighthouse location, as the old Northern Frontiers Visitors Centre building is to be demolished by May.

The visitors centre is one of only a few stations across town that feature early warning detection stations which give notice at the community level about incoming space weather and conditions for aurora viewing.

Yellowknife is believed to be the only community on the planet to have a street-level early warning system for active northern lights.

“There is (a lighthouse) one that is still on the roof of the visitors centre but because the visitors centre is still shut down, the lighthouse is currently looking for a new home,” said James Pugsley, president of Astronomy North, a non-profit organization for northern sky education and outreach which oversees the lighthouse.

Yellowknife has a series of lighthouses in different areas of town that help bring early warning detection about incoming space weather. One of them is located downtown on the rooftop of Sushi North. The lighthouses were erected in 2013 as part of a Northern Lighthouse Project by Astronomy North, a non-profit society which aims to increase public awareness about space weather and aurora.
Simon Whitehouse/NNSL photo

In 2013, Astronomy North launched its Northern Lighthouse Project to raise awareness at the community level about space weather forecasts. Other locations for the lighthouses throughout town include the Northland Utilities office building on Range Lake Road, Aurora Ford, Sushi North and the Gallery of the Midnight Sun. 

Pugsley said the lighthouse project has sought to help engage people with Yellowknife’s unique position in relation to the night sky and the benefits it has with the local economy and northern culture.

“We launched the project as a way to celebrate the peak of the solar cycle and wanted to have an early warning system for active space weather,” explained Pugsley.

“Yellowknife is also one of the few places on the planet where the sky has a direct impact on the economy so the more we can do to raise awareness about these active events, the more we can have the opportunity to have families to get out and enjoy the show. It is also good for aurora tourism, too.”

Pugsley explained that the city is perfectly positioned under the aurora oval, which is a magnetic structure that encircles the north and south geomagnetic poles. This gives the city a unique position under the northern lights almost every single night and made it appropriate for lighthouses, he said. 

One of the lighthouses belonging to the Northern Lighthouse Project by Astronomy North, is located at the former Northern Frontiers Visitors Centre. Society president James Pugsley said this week that the organization is hoping to find a new location for the lighthouse, which serves as an early warning system for space weather and incoming aurora particles. Nick Pearce / NNSL Photo

The lighthouses flash three colours – blue when conditions are quiet, green when conditions are considered “normal,” and red when space weather is “active” or “stormy.” Each one also has a lighthouse keeper responsible for keeping track of changes and entering data into the Astronomy North website. 

If a lighthouse is flashing red, an Earth directed solar event is taking place and particles are due to arrive within 24 to 48 hours, Pugsley said. It provides plenty of time for aurora watchers to prepare and get their cameras ready.

When the lighthouses flash, people can go to the Northern Lighthouse Project website  to get detailed information about space weather and aurora conditions. The website provides such information as the sunspot or active region on the sun that is contributing to the solar wind, the arrival time for particles and duration for the viewing event.

Pugsley said Astronomy North has also launched a new podcast this year called KP3 Podcast which is “dedicated to the frontiers of geospace and all things aurora.”

New episodes are uploaded every Monday and Friday.

Simon Whitehouse

Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. Simon obtained his journalism education at Algonquin College and the University of Ottawa.. Simon can be reached at (867)...

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