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New aurora alert website launched

Wednesday, 2 August 2017 11:19am

Aurora-hailed-image
A new aurora alert website was launched at Otago Museum this week, at an event which included a talk by Otago Museum Director and aurora aficionado Ian Griffin, who took this incredible photo.

A new aurora alert website that will help stargazers in Dunedin and the lower South Island predict when they will see an aurora was launched by Otago researchers during a gathering at Otago Museum last night.

Professor Craig Rodger, head of the University’s Space Physics Group, says the website is a free service offering updates on when the aurora might be visible from southern New Zealand, especially Dunedin.

“The sun is not just a huge light bulb sending heat and light to us – it is a gigantic fiery ball of burning gas on which the largest explosions in our solar system take place. The highly dynamic sun affects the Earth in multiple ways. We are only just starting to understand how the sun drives 'space weather' - changes in the environment on and around the Earth which affect our technological systems and produce aurora.

"We are really excited by this initiative – this will be fantastic in alerting people to know when to go out and take in these often incredibly spectacular events."

"The aurora can be seen from Dunedin much more often than people think, which has been proved by the dedicated sky viewers who head out and take photographs – nonetheless, it is not every night, so this alert service should help people decide whether to head out," Professor Rodger says.

“Our aurora information is provided by the global real-time magnetic observatory network called Intermagnet, GNS Science, and our own research group in the Department of Physics.

“The website and the aurora ‘nowcasting’ code we use was created by former Space Physics Group intern, Moritz Wolf,” he says.

“We are really excited by this initiative – this will be fantastic in alerting people to know when to go out and take in these often incredibly spectacular events. Our website has a Twitter feed, so it makes it all the easier for getting the good oil on when these fascinating light shows are taking place.”

The website is supported through funding from an MBIE grant to Professor Rodger to study how resilient New Zealand's power grid would be during a solar storm and also supported by GNS.