'Tsunami' of solar flare could cause stunning aurora australis over New Zealand

The Aurora Australis
The Aurora Australis Photo credit: Otago Museum

Keen Kiwi astronomers should cast their eyes to the skies on Thursday night, as a solar explosion could mean a chance to catch a glimpse of the aurora australis.

The aurora, also known as the southern lights, is caused by solar flares sending charged particles hurtling towards earth. When the particles collide with atoms in the atmosphere, they create stunning pastel pink, green and purple rays of light.

But as beautiful as the aurora is, it's not set in stone. Craig Rodger from Otago University told Newshub although there was a solar explosion on Tuesday, which threw out a "tsunami" of a coronal mass ejection, it's not guaranteed the lights will make another appearance.

"The international space weather services are predicting the coronal mass ejection will hit the Earth and set off a pretty big geomagnetic disturbance - which should produce aurora," Prof Rodger said.

"The prediction centres times ranging from about 3pm yesterday though to 6pm today. The average of all the prediction time was 3am this morning, which did not happen."

He said it could be the mass ejection is still en route, or it could have missed earth entirely as it was supposed to have started at 3am.

Otago University's geomagnetic activity forecaster shows the current level of geomagnetic activity is 3/9 - meaning aurora is only visible with a good camera, not the naked eye. 

For people keen to try and catch a glimpse of the southern lights, the best way to increase your chances is to get somewhere close to sea level, with a clear view of the south.