Spectacular Aurora Australis seen in Southland

Last updated 10:33 18/06/2012

The far south of New Zealand was treated to a spectacular Aurora Australis overnight.

An Aurora Australis is created when particles from the sun interact with the Earth's magnetic field.

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An Aurora Australis which passed over New Zealand last night was spectacular in Invercargill, but was shadowed by clouds for most of the country.

Auroras have lit up the night sky several times this year as the sun is in an active phase, or a solar maximum, Mt John Observatory observer Fraser Gunn said.

The rays of colour are created by the biggest solar storm in more than six years, which is bombarding Earth with radiation.

The further south, the more likely you are to see the bright lights.

There was a spectacular display in Invercargill last night, but the lights were shadowed by clouds in Tekapo, where the observatory is based.

Astrophotographer Stephen Voss managed to capture some stunning images of the aurora between 11pm and 12.30am from Sandy Point, near Invercargill.

Gunn said it was a cloudy night throughout most of the South Island so those in the far south were probably the only ones who got a good view.

"This year and next year they could spring up at any time," Gunn said.

"It's just a case of being at the right place at the right time."

Astronomer John Field, from Carter Observatory in Wellington, said earlier this year that the lights were created when particles from the sun interacted with the earth's magnetic field.

"This electric charge makes the gases in the atmosphere glow the lovely reds and greens that we see."

Field said the green lights were created by oxygen, red by hydrogen and yellow by nitrogen.

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