Spectacular pictures of the southern lights have been captured aboard NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).
SOFIA, a modified Boeing 747SP aircraft with a 2.54-metre diameter telescope, is in New Zealand to study celestial objects that are best observed from southern latitudes, such as star formation within the Magellanic Clouds, two satellite galaxies in our Milky Way.
“It’s hard to beat the quality of the science data that we obtain while observing from New Zealand,” said Program Manager Eddie Zavala, “We are looking forward to another outstanding series of observations.”
The southern lights, also known as Aurora Australis, were once thought to be a harbinger of doom but is now a chance for keen photographers to capture some remarkable shots.
According to the Bureau of Meteorology, we can look forward to more opportunities to view this stunning event.
‘We’re now emerging from a period of solar maximum that began in 2011, and historical data show that some of the best auroras have occurred in the declining phase of the solar maximum, which is more conducive to faster solar wind and intense geomagnetic activity,’ says Dr Murray Parkinson, a Duty Forecaster at the Australian Space Forecast Centre.
The Aurora Australis is caused by the sun’s magnetic energy that enters the Earth’s magnetic field through the poles.
The colourful lights can happen as high as 600 kilometres and are sometimes even spotted by astronauts aboard the International Space Station.