The northern lights (aurora borealis) are an atmospheric phenomenon of beautiful dancing waves of light that have ensnared people’s imaginations for millennia. It is a phenomenon that occurs mainly in Canada, Alaska, Scandinavia, and Russia.

The name aurora borealis was coined by Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei, in the early 17th century, after the Roman goddess of dawn, Aurora, and the Greek god of the north wind, Boreas. The earliest suspected record of the northern lights dates back over 30,000 years to a French cave painting.

(Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)
(Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

The northern lights are charged particles from the sun’s corona, causing solar winds. These winds slam into Earth’s upper atmosphere with incredible force creating the northern lights, or if you are in the Southern Hemisphere, southern lights. (that’s just weird)

The colors of the lights are dictated by the chemical composition of the atmosphere at the time of contact. Each molecule absorbs and radiates its own set of colors. Dominant colors are green, a product of oxygen, and red, a product of nitrogen.

Northern Lights in Norway
(Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

Ok, science class is over, let’s talk about viewing the aurora. The original viewing forecast -issued last week- showed 17 different states with the possibility of getting a glimpse of the aurora. That forecast has been updated, and unfortunately, it leaves a lot of people in the dark. The current forecast calls for 4 states to have a shot at seeing the lights on Thursday, one of those being Montana.

Here is a look at the current forecast, scrubbing this video a few times, it looks like the best time might be Thursday night from 11:10ish- 5:00 am, and the peek from 2 am to 5 am.

A look at the current forecast from the NOAA, we might get a glimpse of the lights on the horizon.
A look at the current forecast from the NOAA, we might get a glimpse of the lights on the horizon.

A bit of good news if you are going to try and spot the lights, is our weather forecast shows clear skies all week, so that will help. You are going to want to get out of town and avoid artificial lights and glare. Get to some higher ground if able, which is pretty easy around here. Find a nice spot on the 18-mile hill, with a good view of the north, or if you really want to take an adventure, head up into the highlands.

The intensity of geomagnetic activity is measured by what is called a “K index”, ranging from zero to nine. The higher the number the more light activity. The forecast for Thursday is still showing a 6, so we have a chance of catching a glimpse here in Montana, so good luck.

Also, the sun’s 11-year solar cycle could peak next year, increasing the frequency and severity of solar storms. Equating to more auroras, visible farther away from the magnetic poles.

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