The Aurora Australis, or Southern Lights, is an electrical phenomenon and one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
How does it look like that?
Even though auroras are best seen at night, they are actually caused by the Sun.
The Sun not only sends heat and light towards earth, it sends lots of other energy and small particles our way too. Earths protective magnetic field shields us from most of the energy and particles, but to ramp things up a bit the Sun ensures that it doesn’t send the same amount of energy all the time.
There is a constant streaming solar wind and there are also solar storms. During one particular kind of solar storm, called a coronal mass ejection, the Sun burps out a huge bubble of electrified gas that can travel through space at high speeds and down the magnetic field lines at the South Pole and into Earths atmosphere.
There, the particles collide with gases resulting in awesome displays of light in the sky. Oxygen gives off green and red light. Nitrogen glows blue and purple.
Where you can witness an Aurora, if you're lucky
The aurora australis is visible in New Zealand, Antarctica, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, and Australia.
The Kp number is a system of measuring aurora strength. It goes from 0 to 9 (0 being very weak, 9 being a major geomagnetic storm with strong auroras visible).
Now beam back to Stewart Island. Down here we are the most southern place in New Zealand to see Auroras. Like everything to do with life there is no guarantee to see one when you arrive here. Aurora are notoriously hard to predict. You need to be patient. All the stars need to align, nice clear dark sky, high solar storm activity etc.
Beaks & Feathers have been very fortunate to see Aurora while out kiwi spotting. A once in a life time experience.
Photo: Aurora over Stewart Island. Taken by Angela Steffens, Beaks & Feathers