Northern Lights Were Visible in Montana This Weekend
A burst of energy from our Sun brought Northern Lights to skies over Earth, visible even in the Bitterroot Valley. Farther north, around Glacier National Park, long curtain-like streamers were seen, but generally in our latitude on the globe, we were able to see a green glow. The aurora forecasts are among the most tenuous for those who survey the night skies around here. A couple of websites help, but are not foolproof, so be patient - spaceweather.com and solarham.net. The nice thing about those and other sites such as heavens-above.com is that they can alert you to see other things in our dark Montana skies.
A couple of tips about the Aurora Borealis - look to the north, because the aurora rarely covers the whole sky in Montana. The glow of the Missoula lights is always present to the north. However, a subtle indicator of the aurora can be seen in the rest of the night sky. It's a dark shimmering wave that occasionally moves quickly past the stars. If you see that, look just above the Missoula glow for the Northern Lights (photo above).
You may have already seen another night sky event that is happening on a regular basis - the creation of the Starlink satellite network. Elon Musk's company is launching 60 satellites at a time every few weeks to create a low-Earth-orbit (340 miles up) network for internet delivery. During the first days after a launch, you can see the little white lights in a long row crossing the sky, before they disperse to their assigned locations. The scale of this project is overwhelming - they estimate thousands of these satellites will be launched to complete the network. The best time to see them is about a half hour before sunrise and a half hour after sunset. It's not always visible over western Montana, but heavens-above.com can help. That site also can alert you to when the International Space Station (ISS) is passing overhead (accurate to the minute, by the way). You just have to be looking in the right direction.
And, stay tuned for the latest information about meteor showers, eclipses, visible planets and more as we get warmer nights to lay on the ground and look up at the night sky. Of course, there's always.....