Aurora

Day #289 in Antarctica ·

One of my biggest aspirations in coming to Antarctica was to see the Southern Lights – the aurora australis. The transient, ethereal nature of the aurora has fascinated me since first learning of them during childhood visits to Norway.

Aurora are relatively uncommon at Rothera, due to its location at 67ºS on the Antarctic Peninsula, which is usually outside the auroral oval.1 The southern geomagnetic pole, which forms the centre of the oval, is in East Antarctica near Vostok Station, about 3,500km away. This is one of the reasons for Halley’s location on the Brunt Ice Shelf – it sits directly under the usual auroral oval, and is ideally situated for atmospheric and space weather research.

A recent coronal mass ejection on the 25th August caused a minor geomagnetic storm when it hit the Earth’s magnetosphere a few days later, causing energetic aurora that extended further towards the equator in both hemispheres.

During the 27-29th August, we had a rare high pressure system overhead with clear moonless skies, and so a group of us took advantage of this happy coincidence and spent a few nights bivouacking2 out under the stars to capture this stunning display on camera.

Aurora Australis flickr
The southern lights shines down onto Reptile Ridge.
  1. The auroral oval is a ring-shaped zone, about 2,500km across, around Earth’s magnetic poles. The NOAA provides a forecast of the auroral oval.

  2. A little chilly at times, with temperatures between -15 and -20ºC, but well worth it for the experience.