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Aurora Borealis - Viewer Photos (May 2024)

Posted at 10:49 AM, May 11, 2024

GREAT FALLS — The Aurora Borealis - often called Northern Lights - danced across Montana skies on Friday, May 10, 2024, and into Saturday morning.

KRTV viewers captured some beautiful photographs of the light show, as seen in the video above - thank you for sharing your pictures!

The dazzling dispay was predicted by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC), which said that the aurora borealis may be visible overnight Friday into Saturday as far south as Alabama.

Here's a breakdown of why the SWPC made this call:

  • WHAT: "Several CMEs will quite likely reach Earth and lead to elevated geomagnetic activity."
  • EVENT: "A coronal mass ejection (CME) is an eruption of solar material. When they arrive at Earth, a geomagnetic storm can result."
  • WHY: "Watches at this level are very rare."
  • TIMING: "The CMEs are anticipated to merge and arrive at Earth by late on Friday, May 10th or early on Saturday, May 11th."
  • EFFECTS: "The Aurora may become visible over much of the northern half of the country, maybe as far south to Alabama or northern California."

The solar flares were expected to begin hitting Earth's magnetic field on Friday and linger into Sunday.
The SWPC said that nearly all of Canada and the U.S.-Canada border would likely be able to view an aurora, pending clear skies.

Aurora Borealis May 2024
Aurora Borealis - May 2024

If you missed the Northern Lights on Friday/Saturday, you might be able to catch the phenomenon again - the geomagnetic storm is expected to last through the weekend.

For optimal viewing, try to get away from city lights, and be sure to look north.

Two resources for knowing when the Aurora Borealis might be visible in our area are the Space Weather Prediction Center and Soft Serve News.

(FEBRUARY 2023) The Aurora Borealis is a mesmerizing display of dancing lights in the sky. What causes this mesmerizing natural phenomenon?

Explainer: Aurora Borealis

It starts with the sun. The Earth is surrounded by magnetic fields. During solar storms, large masses of charged particles, or protons and electrons, are forced towards the Earth at speeds of 250 to 500 miles per second by the solar wind.

Generally, the particles are directed towards the area with the greatest magnetic activity, the poles. Upon reach the North or South Pole, these particles interact with atmospheric gases, mostly oxygen and nitrogen. The collisions between the two cause heat, which is released in the form of light.

The color visible depends on the height of the collision. Higher altitude oxygen created a red hue, while green hues are indicative of lower altitude oxygen molecules. Pink and blue hues correlate to nitrogen molecules, the most abundant gas in the atmosphere.

In order for the Northern Lights to be visible at mid-latitudes such as Montana, the solar storm needs to be particularly intense. Brightness is directly related to the solar storm's strength. The planetary K index (Kp) is the most accurate scale for geomagnetic activity. The Kp index goes from 1 (dim, visible only near the poles) to 9 (very bright, visible overhead in northern U.S. states). A Kp of 5 is generally seen as the threshold for a solar storm and that is when the Northern Lights are usually visible near the Canadian border.

Prime viewing for the Aurora Borealis is during the wintertime months due to the lack of daylight hours, however it can technically be viewed anytime of the year. A full moon or city lights can prohibit the brightness of the Northern Lights.

Two resources for knowing when the Aurora Borealis might be visible in our area are the Space Weather Prediction Center and Soft Serve News.