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"Starlight Reserve" Hopeful - Turns on a Good Show with Aurora Australis

The Southern Lights, as it is also known, is particularly active in our hemisphere during the winter months. The base is usually seen at about 100km up in the air, and can extend up to a further 300km at the top. This breathtakingly vibrant optical phenomenon is named after the Roman goddess of the dawn (Aurora) and appeared to Tekapo's residents as a  huge green undulating  curtain of light.

With a blatant show of electioneering, the Aurora Australis danced high above the residents of Lake Tekapo this week.

This dynamic display can only be seen as timely as Lake Tekapo has recently been earmarked by UNESCO as the world's first recognised "starlight reserve". Although the process is still at early stages, the proposed location encompasses the skies over Tekapo Township, Mount John Observatory, and the Lake itself. Ever Since the existence of the Mount John Observatory on the peak of Mount John, the local area has been subject to strict light restrictions. These restrictions have existed to protect the sky around the observatory from unnecessary light pollution. The eventual granting of the status of "starlight reserve" would further cement these restrictions benefiting sky and star gazers from all around the world. Photo by Matt Hall

What causes the Aurora Australis?

These magnificent displays of coloured light are a result from collisions between electrically charged gaseous particles in the Earth's atmosphere with charged particles from the sun that enter the atmosphere often through solar flares. Sunspot activity causes electrons and protons from the sun to be blown towards the earth on the solar wind. The different colours are caused by the different types of gas particles.

Mount John Observatory Stargazing Tours - Lake Tekapo

When arriving at the observatory, guides will take people for naked eye tours for about 15 minutes, after allowing some time for your eyes to adapt to the darkness, your guides will take you to a dome which is used for public viewing. Using 16 inch telescope and large binoculars guides will show you amazing sites such as our own Milky Way Galaxy, the Southern Cross, Alpha-Centauri. You may also have the opportunity to see star clusters like the beautiful Jewel Box, awe inspiring planets, immense clouds of gas and dust, and distant galaxies which test the limits of human imagination.  

Good News

Updated December 2013

Canterbury is now home to the biggest and the best dark-sky reserve in the world. Six years of hard work and intense lobbying have finally paid off with tonight's announcement that the Aoraki-Mackenzie Dark-Sky Reserve has been officially approved by a global astronomical body. The reserve, which includes Canterbury University's Mt John Observatory above Lake Tekapo, Twizel and Aoraki-Mt Cook village, is only the fourth in the world and the second in the Southern Hemisphere. At 4300 square kilometres the Aoraki-Mackenzie reserve is the biggest, ahead of reserves at Exmoor in England and Quebec in Canada, and the recently announced Namib Rand Nature Reserve in Namibia. It is also the first "gold-rated" reserve, meaning the darkness of its night skies is almost unbeatable.

New Zealand
Brent Narbey
Submitted by
Brent Narbey
: 18 Jul 2012 (Last updated: 29 May 2018)

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