With clear sky forecast, and with excellent prospects for a really good auroral display, last Friday I headed out to Hoopers Inlet. As the sun set behind the hills, I set up my cameras for what I hoped would be a memorable evening of aurora hunting.
The evening certainly proved unforgettable in many ways, because not only did I enjoy a gorgeous yet subtle display of the aurora australis, I also experienced the effects of several bright meteors or fireballs, one of which was so bright that it was witnessed across New Zealand.
Unfortunately when that object exploded, I was looking the other way. Luckily, I did manage to capture the meteor’s bright flash behind me on one of the photos I took. The flash was so intense that it cast a very sharp shadow of me on the foreground. Unfortunately no-one seems to have got a direct picture of this fireball, so if you or anyone you know has a security camera, it might be worth checking it for a couple of minutes either side of 10.15pm on 24 February to see if you caught the cosmic intruder on camera.
A meteor is what you see when material from space burns up in the Earth’s atmosphere. Often called shooting stars, meteors can create very bright trails in the night sky, though most are faint. If a meteor is particularly bright, astronomers call it a fireball. The brightness of a meteor depends on the size of the material burning; small objects (about the size of dust grains) are relatively dim, while bigger objects (which can be the size of a cricket ball or larger) are brighter.
While I missed the brightest meteor of the night, I did manage to capture a picture of another one later in the evening. As the second photo shows, just after 11.20pm a very bright meteor exploded in the southern sky just above Sandymount as viewed from Hoopers Inlet, while an aurora gently glowed. I hope the residents of the inlet didn’t mind my late night shout of joy!