13 May 2024

Aurora Australis should be visible again tonight and tomorrow, astronomer says

5:09 pm on 13 May 2024
Aurora captured in Lauder, Central Otago.

Darryl Jones saw the aurora from Lauder in Central Otago. Photo: Darryl Jones

More solar storms are expected tonight, tomorrow and over the coming weeks as a "solar maximum" approaches.

Aotearoa was dazzled at the weekend as a rare solar storm saw the Aurora Australis light up the sky.

University of Otago physics professor Craig Rodger said it was the largest such solar storm for more than a decade in New Zealand, and astronomer Dr Ian Griffin said Aurora Australis should be visible again either Monday or Tuesday night.

"The solar storm that was raging over the weekend has died down a little bit now, but there is some more material coming from a sunspot which is turning away from the Earth," Griffin said.

"But it has kind of sent a final goodbye by firing some more solar material towards us, and that should be arriving either tonight or tomorrow."

While this particular sunspot would not be throwing anymore material into the atmosphere after Tuesday night, Griffin said a solar maximum - the peak of the solar cycle - was approaching.

The aurora, as seen from Firth of Thames.

The aurora, as seen from the Firth of Thames on Saturday night. Photo: Supplied / Steve Perkins

"We are expecting solar activity to be a little bit quieter for the next week or so, but we are approaching solar maximum, and that means there is more solar activity and more auroras.

"So hopefully we will see more storms like the one we really got to enjoy on Saturday night over the next few weeks and months."

Keen aurora observer and photographer Darryl Jones said it was the best display he had seen since the 1980s.

Jones stayed up all night on Saturday and into Sunday to capture the aurora from Lauder in Central Otago.

He told Afternoons the aurora was generally a southern phenomenon - but as proven last weekend, the North Island was able to see it too.

He was "definitely excited" by it.

"It's one of those rare, grand observances of nature that you don't get to see every day, particularly in the northern parts of the country."

Jones said it was a rarity to see an aurora that covered much of the sky as this one did.

Aurora captured in Lauder, Central Otago.

Darryl Jones said the weekend's display was the best he had seen since the 1980s. Photo: Darryl Jones

It got "better and better" as the night went on, and got to a point where it looked like a "crown over your head".

While the colours were visible to the naked eye, Jones said cameras are very sensitive to red light and had an ability to enhance the beauty of the aurora.

Setting a phone or camera to have a 3-5 second exposure would help get the best picture possible, Jones said.

While the aurora had been predicted, he did not believe anyone thought it would be as big as it was, and the night would be as clear as it was for most people around the country.

Jones said he did not expect the displays possible on Monday and Tuesday nights to be as grand as Saturday's display had been but there was still a chance of seeing it.

Aurora as seen from Lauder in Central Otago.

The aurora may be visible on Monday or Tuesday night. Photo: Darryl Jones

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs