Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

OM’s Ian Griffin on the aurora

Stargazers are celebrating the most spectacular natural aurora seen in years over the South Island on Sunday night.

Otago Museum director Dr Ian Griffin tweeted: “I am officially saying this night was the best night ever as an aurora chaser in Dunedin. It gets no better.”

Griffin, who arrived in Dunedin from Britain five years ago, said he had seen the northern lights in Britain but had never seen any aurora as dramatic as the one he saw from Hoopers Inlet on Otago Peninsula at 7.20pm on Sunday.

“We were very, very privileged to see it,” he said.

He said auroras were formed when storms on the sun sent out charged particles which lit up as they collided with particles in the Earth’s atmosphere.

“Normally they are thought of kilometres south of New Zealand, but this was such a powerful solar storm that it created an aurora that was visible over much of New Zealand up to Wellington,” he said.

“One this bright we haven’t seen since the St Patrick’s Day aurora in 2015, so at least three years. This one was pretty spectacular.”

He said solar storms sometimes lasted for several days but this one was decaying rapidly.

“There’s a small chance we might see it tonight, but it seems to be fading away,” he said. “It’s also a bit cloudier tonight.”

Christchurch stargazer Graham Fisher said: “We don’t normally see the aurora with a full moon, as the sky is so bright. Tonight’s was stunning, appearing while the sun was still setting, and with overhead beams at times. What a night!”

Council of Australasian Museum Directors, c/o Ms Daryl Karp, Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House PO Box 3934 Manuka, Australian Capital Territory 2603 Australia, © CAMD 2021
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