Possible northern lights viewing in Montana this weekend • Daily Montanan

There’s a good chance you’ll be able to see the northern lights Friday evening into Saturday morning, with the Space Weather Prediction Center forecasting this could be the strongest geomagnetic storm since 2003.

Aurora borealis, also known as polar or northern lights, can typically be seen in higher latitudes. Large geomagnetic storms are linked to solar coronal mass ejections (CMEs), which the center explains are when around a billion tons of plasma from the sun arrive at Earth with its embedded magnetic field.

The center describes auroras as the only way most humans can observe space weather.

The National Weather Service in Billings and Great Falls said on social media there was a good chance of seeing the northern lights with forecasted clear skies and temps in the 30s and 40s.

The Great Falls NWS said the best time for viewing the aurora is between 10 p.m. Friday night and 2 a.m. Saturday morning, but could be possible any time between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. The NWS recommended getting away from city lights, looking north and being patient.

The center said at least seven earth-directed CMEs are in transit as part of a severe G4 geomagnetic storm, which is second strongest category under extreme G5 storms. The last time the center has been on watch for a storm this strong was in 2005, and the last occurrence was in 2003.

There may be technical issues from the storm, including GPS and power grid interruptions, but the center said critical infrastructure operators have been alerted.

The source of the storm is a large sunspot cluster 16 times the diameter of the earth, according to the center.

For short-term, 30-minute forecasts from the center, go to: https://www.swpc.noaa.gov/products/aurora-30-minute-forecast

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