One of my bucket list entrants is seeing the Aurora Borealis, failing that I guess the Aurora Australis will do. I mean, I live in a city that is becoming increasingly famous for its aurora sightings, so much so, we want to be left in the dark and become a dark skies city.
Cue inspirational music and a classic YouTube vid about aurora:
But lets be honest: Aurora occur at night (well I meant that’s when you see them) and winter is the best ‘season’ to view them… Have you been to Dunedin? Winter + Dunedin + outside = It bloody better be worth it!
Well if you head out to Hoopers inlet on a good night… it just might be!
Hoopers inlet is one of the two large inlets found out on the Otago peninsula and home to many beautiful aurora photographs you may have seen onine. Most of these photos are from the great St Patrick’s day event of 2015, where we saw the best aurora in 11 years. In saying that though, a simple YouTube search will show you that almost anywhere in Dunedin has the potential of some great Aurora spotting.
What is the aurora?
Named for the Roman goddess of dawn, the aurora is a mysterious and unpredictable display of light in the night sky.
They are common at high northern and southern latitudes: The aurora borealis (the northern lights, found at the north pole) and aurora australis (the southern lights, found at the south pole). While usually a milky greenish color, auroras can also show red, blue, violet, pink, and white. These colors often appear as “curtains” of folding light constantly changing shape. So, show me your light curtains!
What causes the aurora?
The typical aurora is caused by collisions between fast-moving electrons from space with the oxygen and nitrogen in Earth’s upper atmosphere. The electrons, which come from the Earth’s magnetosphere, the region of space controlled by Earth’s magnetic eld, transfer their energy to the oxygen and nitrogen atoms and molecules, making them “excited”.
As the gases return to their normal state, they emit photons, small bursts of energy in the form of light. When a large number of electrons come from the magnetosphere to bombard the atmosphere, the oxygen and nitrogen can emit enough light for the eye to detect, giving us beautiful auroral displays. This ghostly light originates at altitudes of 100 to more than 400 km.
If you cant be bothered reading how they are created, watch this:
Aurora originate at the poles, and just like a bar magnet, Earth has a North and a South Pole. The magnetism at the poles reaches all of the way down into our planet’s core, and just like how you and your mates rush through the same group of drunk students to get to the bar before severe thirst sets in, the particles follow an invisible magnetic line down the poles.
After wriggling through to the Earth’s atmosphere, the particles start to act like bumper cars and bounce off the molecules (that’s two or more particles attached to each other!) that can be found at the highest reaches of our planet. Our Earth’s atmosphere is made of two main gases called oxygen and nitrogen. Both of these gases are made of the molecules that we came across earlier, and when they collide with the particles thrown out by the Sun, they emit the colours that turn the darkest of skies into a beautiful light show, Voila! Aurora!
How do I view Aurora?
Find somewhere with limited to no light pollution and grab a camera. Unfortunately, we don’t experience too many aurora events that are strong enough to be seen with the naked eye here in Dunedin. I’m not saying they don’t happen, its just dam rare. Using a camera is your best bet to view them.
But be warned, you can get set up to have all the alerts under the sun but by the time you get somewhere with little light pollution, facing south, you may have missed the main event.
Be prepared for a whole lot of disappointment (are we talking about aurora spotting or my love life here?) but when you experience an ‘event’ it will leave a lasting impression that will last a life time! (again, aurora or love life?).
But it’s the adventure of jumping in that beat up old wagon you own and driving out into the darkness that makes it all worth while!
So go on, grab a thermos of hot coffee, a blankie, an antarctic survival suit (if you really feel the cold), a camera, a torch and a few mates and go aurora hunting! It will make you go out and explore the dark spaces of Dunedin! in a non creepy way of course!
Cue more inspirational music and more aurora videos:
Till next time!
Main photo credit By NOAA Photo Library [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons