The Southern Lights are an incredibly rare phenomenon to witness with the naked eye. Also known as Aurora Australis, it occurs when charged particles from the Sun’s solar winds travel along Earth’s magnetic fields. These particles make their way to the poles and excite the gasses in the atmosphere, causing them to glow.
An Aurora can occur at any time. It is a common misconception that there is a specific time of the day, month or even season that is better for sightings but this is simply not true. The Aurora Australis can vary in strengths – this is dependent on solar activity.
Here in Tekapo, in the heart of the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, we may not have the city lights polluting our skies but we are still competing with the Moon. Sighting an Aurora is made much easier when the Moon is not visible!
Camera sensors are a lot better than our eyes at picking up these seemingly faint colours, so when you see a photo of an Aurora it will often be more colourful than what is visible to us.
So, if you are in the right place, at the right time, with a clear sky and you are able to see an Aurora, then you are incredibly lucky and we hope you have your DSLR cameras at the ready!
Heidi-Louise Sum is the Online Media Administrator for Earth & Sky in Tekapo.