Southerners should look to the sky tonight

By Grant Jacobs 03/08/2010

Check to see if you can see the Aurora Australis, or the “Southern Lights” tonight.

Aurora Australis from Bluff, by Paul Moss. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)
Aurora Australis see from Bluff, 29th Nov. 1994, by Paul Moss. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

There are a number of reports of large solar flares in the direction of earth. These can cause the Aurora Australis, or the “Southern Lights” to be seen.

This happens infrequently in New Zealand, so I’d give looking at the night sky a shot. Common sense suggests you’ll do best away from city lights.

There’s a good account of the current solar eruptions on SkyMania.

This video of the flare from the NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory is stunning. Here’s a still from it:

Source: NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory.
Source: NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory.

(Who needs sci-fi when you’ve got that?)


The  wikipedia page has an interesting account of telegram operators running with their batteries off, letting the aurora power the lines. I haven’t the background to confirm this off-hand or time to track this story to it’s sources, but it’s remarkable.

To quote from wikipedia:

The following conversation occurred between two operators of the American Telegraph Line between Boston and Portland, Maine, on the night of September 2, 1859 and reported in the Boston Traveler:

Boston operator (to Portland operator): “Please cut off your battery [power source] entirely for fifteen minutes.”

Portland operator: “Will do so. It is now disconnected.”

Boston: “Mine is disconnected, and we are working with the auroral current. How do you receive my writing?”

Portland: “Better than with our batteries on. – Current comes and goes gradually.”

Boston: “My current is very strong at times, and we can work better without the batteries, as the aurora seems to neutralize and augment our batteries alternately, making current too strong at times for our relay magnets. Suppose we work without batteries while we are affected by this trouble.”

Portland: “Very well. Shall I go ahead with business?”

Boston: “Yes. Go ahead.”

Conversation apparently continued for two hours in this fashion.

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0 Responses to “Southerners should look to the sky tonight”

  • Anyone know what time would be the best to head out of town to see this?

  • You’re keen! (Good on you.)

    I was thinking exactly the same thing a few minutes ago. Looking around a number of websites the answer is the darkness time at night, i.e. around midnight. Websites for viewing the northern lights suggest between 11pm and 2am.

    Incidentally, here’s a “live” plot of auroral activity over the southern hemisphere from the NOAA website: