I had no idea, when we first moved to Christchurch after a life in the North Island, that the night skies would include the opportunity to observe the Aurora Australis or “Southern Lights”. One night I was out photographing a Milky Way composition when I noticed a glow on the horizon towards the south. After checking a few captured files on the camera, it was obvious that I was capturing auroral activity. How exciting! Fast forward a few years and I keep a keen eye on space weather forecasts in anticipation of the next geomagnetic storm. Most displays I’ve seen over the past 5 years or so have mostly been “in camera” affairs – that is that our eyes just can’t register enough of the faint light from the aurora. Modern cameras do a remarkable job of enabling a deeper view into the skies, showing the colour and shape of the aurora as it dances through the sky, hundreds of kilometres high in the atmosphere and thousands of kilometres away towards the Southern Ocean and Antarctica. Strong auroral activity, that can be easily seen with the naked eye, is a rare event at the mid-latitudes where Christchurch lies. On the 5 August 2019, the gauges indicated possible activity and based on previous outings, these forecasts indicated the results could go either way. The weather forecast was for clear, calm conditions so I headed out. Good thing I’d packed the gumboots, for when I arrived at one of my frequented spots on the side of Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere, it was all but under water – the lake levels were higher than I’d ever seen them. But prepared I was, so gumboots ‘n’ all, I set up the camera and began capturing a regular sequence of images to work on my timelapse skills. For the next hour or so, there was very little auroral activity but it was a nice night so I thought I might as well enjoy it for a while. A few other folks came and went, disappointed there wasn’t much to see. As I sat on the edge of the lake, I began to notice a few rays extending upward above the southern horizon and a strong glowing arc began to advance north, brightening as it did. For about the next two hours, I witnessed some of the strongest activity I’d ever observed, only equalled by an event a couple of years earlier. I noticed that the lake was beautifully calm with the brightest parts of the aurora cast in almost perfect reflection across the surface of the lake. I decided to take advantage of the conditions and reset my equipment to make some panoramic images. I was completely in awe of the scene in front of me, I don’t think I stopped smiling the whole night. To the naked eye, I could easily make out the form and movement of the ethereal sight, though the colour is something that eludes my visual observations.
The resulting image from that night ‘Aurora Australis Reflection’ is actually made up of five images stitched together and spans from about South-East to South-West on the compass. The slight glow to the right of the scene is light from the setting Moon. The stars of the Milky Way fill the frame with the Southern Cross positioned near the top-right of the frame. The Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, a pair of satellite galaxies, can be seen in the sky to the left of the main auroral activity.
I’m so pleased to be able to share this image with you!
- Camera: Canon EOS 6D
- Lens: Samyang 24mm f/1.4
- Exposure: f/2, 6s, ISO 3200
- Number of frames used in final image: 5
- Aspect Ratio: 3:2