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Northern lights may be visible in Bozeman Thursday night

By Grace Ditzler, KTVM Reporter, gditzler@ktvm.com
Published On: Jan 09 2014 10:54:20 PM MST
Updated On: Jan 09 2014 10:59:15 PM MST
BOZEMAN, Mont. -

Folks in Montana might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the northern lights Thursday or Friday night.

Some local residents said they've seen the northern lights and know what a spectacular sight it is.

"They're wonderful, beautiful," said Belgrade resident Jeshua Isoleethummim, "they are the heavens opening up and coming down and touching the earth."

Normally, only people living in the far north get to have that experience.

But Thursday night could be one of those rare occasions when the northern lights head south.

"The northern lights are when energetic stuff from the sun impacts our atmosphere and it interacts with different things like oxygen and nitrogen in our atmosphere and make light," explained Angela Des Jardins, the Director of the Montana Space Grant Consortium. She explained what happens on the sun can travel to Earth to create the aurora borealis.

"A huge explosion has happened on the sun," Des Jardins said. "It's something called a 'coronal mass ejection,' where a whole bunch of stuff just spewed at the earth. And what it does is actually compresses the magnetic field around the sun and that in turn causes energetic stuff to dump into the poles."

She explained a recent solar storm is affecting earth's magnetic field, causing the northern lights to expand, possibly as far south as Colorado and Central Illinois.

"When energetic stuff is dumped into the poles, it pushes the auroral oval down south," she said. "Instead of just being up in Alaska, it pushes it down south and makes all these energetic things happen to light up the nitrogen and oxygen in the atmosphere."

If the northern lights do make it all the way down south to Bozeman, you'll most likely be able to see them either Thursday or Friday night after midnight, and if you are facing north.

"The most common type of aurora is a faint green show, but of course it's going to be much more spectacular if we get these kind of streamers or bands of aurora that have more structure," Des Jardins said. "That's much more fantastic looking and what we're really hoping for."

But Des Jardins explained there's a lot that has to line up for that to happen.

"The thing with aurora is there's so many factors that come into play that...if everything doesn't come together then we won't see anything," she said.

NBC Montana asked people if they plan to look up at the sky to see if they can catch a glimpse of the natural phenomenon.

"I would most definitely," said Bozeman resident Whitney Metzger.

"Absolutely!" said Gregg Treinish. "This is the first we've heard about it so yes."

"I'll probably be up around that time anyways, so it's not going to be that hard to poke my head out the window," said resident Patrick Gillis.

Des Jardins said it's worth it.

"If it's clear and we're having aurora, just go outside and check it out, even if you have to set your alarm clock for 1 o'clock in the morning because seeing the aurora is a really fantastic experience," she said.

If you plan to look for the northern lights, head to http://www.spaceweather.com, where you can track the northern lights to see if and when they are above Montana.