Southern Lights delight New Zealand for the second night in a row
Stargazers in different parts of the country had a rare treat at the weekend, spotting the Aurora Australis lighting up the night sky on two consecutive nights.
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The Southern Lights were spotted from Auckland, Canterbury and the Otago Peninsula on Saturday. They then made an appearance in Wellington on Sunday, and were again spied in the sky over Canterbury.
Natalie Crowther, who photographed the Aurora on Sunday, said she had never seen so many cars on the Port Hills, near Christchurch.
"Fog covered Lake Ellesmere so we decided to go up the hill. There were about 200 cars that went through within three hours," she said.
In Wellington, Jonathan Usher was also armed with a camera to capture the light display, and managed to snap the Aurora both nights of the weekend.
"The scene was quite an amazing one," he said.
It was Dave Watson's first time taking his 9-year-old daughter star-gazing on Saturday, and the pair weren't disappointed.
They saw the glow from Rakaia Huts, southwest of Christchurch.
Watson said the pair stood and watched in wonder at the Aurora's "big pointy streaks".
Photographer Larryn Rae spotted the lights in Auckland.
He'd previously photographed the Aurora, but said Saturday night's made "the last one look like play school".
What made the Aurora particularly unusual was its light beams, which Rae didn't believe were normally spotted from Auckland.
Otago Museum director Dr Ian Griffin captured photos of the Aurora from Cape Saunders on the Otago Peninsula, on Saturday.
He said the rainbow colours were a "truly gorgeous display".
It was caused by a geomagnetic storm - the result of a large hole in the sun's surface.
The lights should continue to be visible on Monday night.
Griffin, the former head of public outreach at Nasa's Space Telescope Science Institute, shared some tips for spotting them.
"Get away from city lights, find a place with a good view to the south and keep your fingers crossed," he said.
The Aurora could be seen "surprisingly frequently" in New Zealand, especially from southern parts of the South Island.
"I've lived here in Dunedin now for about four years and I've seen it on over 100 [occasions], I think it's about the 159th now.
"So, on average, it's once every couple of weeks," Griffin said.
Statistics for Christchurch were not as favourable because the city was further north.
"But having said that you can see it quite a lot from Christchurch . . . You need to have a combination of clear skies and the Aurora going off at the same time.
"[Saturday] night's display was a pretty special one, it was seen as far north as Auckland," he said.
Seeing an Aurora from Auckland was "quite rare".
"If you go back through history, it's once every five years or so.
"Having said that, sometimes you might get two or three in a year and then one not for for 15 or 20 years.
"So seeing the Aurora in Auckland is pretty special and that points to the power of [Saturday] night's display," Griffin said.
WHAT MADE THIS AURORA 'SPECIAL'?
Griffin said Saturday night's display was particularly impressive because of a phenomenon known as coronal mass ejection.
"The sun basically blasts off some material and it struck the earth, or it impacted the earth's magnetic field, and that's what gave life to last night's beautiful Aurora and, certainly, it was pretty stunning last night.
"Some of the popular spots down here were really full of people," Griffin said.
"It just turns out last night that there was a load of material coming off the sun and the circumstances were just about perfect for a really good display."
In the Northern Hemisphere, displays of the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) were expected to be visible as far south as New York, Washington and Wisconsin over the same period.