Dark night brings out the best in the sky

Conditions align for phenomenon in Canterbury

SARAH-JANE O'CONNOR
Last updated 09:30 29/08/2014
Aurora Australis over Canterbury
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BRILLIANT: Kaituna Valley resident Matt Searles put together this image of the Aurora Australis and the Milky Way over Lake Ellesmere on Wednesday night.

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Conditions were just right on Wednesday night for locals to see the Aurora Australis over Canterbury, and one photographer managed to snap a shot of the phenomenon.

Kaituna Valley resident Matt Searles heard through social media and an "aurora alert app" that conditions were suitable for catching a glimpse of the southern lights.

He set up on the Little River rail trail and took a series of 30-second exposure shots with a wide-angle lens which he then stitched together into a 180-degree panorama.

The auroras are caused when solar flares send charged particles towards Earth which collide with the upper atmosphere.

Searles said there had been solar flares a few days ago, which is how people knew conditions would be ripe for auroras this week.

"It just gives you an idea if the conditions are right," Searles said. "Whether you'll see it or not is another matter."

Although the aurora shows up clearly in his photographs, Searles said it was visible only to the naked eye as a faint glow on the horizon. "You know something's there but you can't really see it."

Taking night photos around Lake Ellesmere was not always a peaceful experience, with birds often making a "cacophony" around the lake.

Although photography was just a hobby for Searles, he said it was a bit of an "obsession" and he had recently become interested in astrophotography.

He thought many people would think they had to go elsewhere to get good views of the night sky, "but you haven't got to venture too far out of Christchurch to get really dark skies".

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- The Press

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