The power of nature: what a gas

08:55, Apr 10 2010

South Islanders can expect to see more spectacular displays of the southern lights over the next few years.

The sky over the South Island treated stargazers and photographers to a magical display of aurora australis this week.

The phenomenon was captured by astrophotographer Fraser Gunn between 8pm and midnight on Tuesday.

The photos show the aurora lighting up the night sky, looking south from Mt John.

While he specialises in photographing the night sky, Gunn said he had seen only five "good ones" in 10 years.

"It was really cool. It was fantastic. You could see a strange glow and some rays appeared," he said.

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Observatory resident superintendent Alan Gilmore said auroras were caused by explosions that occur on the sun.

"Basically, there is some kind of explosion on the sun and magnetic fields form. Chunks of the sun's hot gases get thrown off into space at great speed," he said. "If one of these clouds of gas hits Earth's atmosphere, then that gas gets channelled by the Earth's magnetic field into the South or North Pole."

The charged gas particles gather around the pole, creating the glowing ring of light or aurora.

The video below was made using a collection of still photographs taken using time-lapse technology and eliptical lenses.

The Press