Congressman Matt Rosendale announced a photo competition for the northern lights that are expected to be highly visible across Montana this week.

“The prominence of the northern lights across our state will be an excellent opportunity to showcase Montana’s natural beauty,” said Rep. Rosendale. “I hope Montanans in every corner of the state will point their lens skyward in the coming days and capture brilliant photos of this miracle of nature.”

Aurora borealis is expected to be visible across Montana between July 12th and 13th if the weather allows. According to the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, activity will be highest on July 13th. Congressman Rosendale will select the winner of the competition, and the winning submission will be posted on the Congressman’s social media pages.

Members of the public are asked to email their submissions to:

To see if you will be in viewing range of the aurora click HERE.

Why does the aurora occur?

The Northern Lights are caused by electrically charged particles entering the Earth’s upper atmosphere at a very high speed. Known as the solar wind, these particles originate from the Sun, which is constantly emitting waves of particles that travel between 300 and 500 km per second in all directions.

As the Earth travels around the Sun, a small fraction of particles from the solar wind collide with our planet. Around 98% of these particles are deflected by the Earth’s magnetic field and continue their journey into deep space. But a small percentage leak through the Earth’s magnetic field and are funnelled downwards towards the magnetic North and South poles.

When these charged particles hit the atoms and molecules high up in our atmosphere, the atoms become excited and then emit distinctive colors as they decay back to their original state. This creates two glowing rings of auroral emission around the North and South magnetic poles, known as Auroral Ovals.

What causes the different colors of the Northern Lights?

The Earth’s atmosphere is made up of different atoms at different levels in the atmosphere. It’s these atoms that become excited as particles from the sun collide with them, causing the colors we see in the Northern Lights.

The most common color seen in the Northern Lights is green. When the solar wind hits millions of oxygen atoms in the Earth’s atmosphere at the same time, they emit the green hue we see from the ground.

The red light we sometimes see in the aurora is also caused by oxygen atoms. These particles are found higher up in the atmosphere and are subject to a lower-energy red-light emission. So although the red color is always present, our eyes are five times less sensitive to red light than green, so we can’t always see it.

A large part of the Earth’s atmosphere is made up of nitrogen, but particles from the solar wind must hit these atoms much harder for them to become excited. Once this happens and the nitrogen atoms begin to decay, they emit a purple-colored light. This is quite a rare color to see, however, and usually only happens during a particularly active auroral display.

KEYZ AM 660 logo
Get our free mobile app

Wyoming Photographer Captures Beautiful Images of Aurora Bourealis

Casper photographer Breanna Klamm Whitlock captured incredible photos of Aurora Borealis early Thursday morning.

More From KEYZ AM 660