New Charter Flight Takes Passengers to See the Southern Lights

The first “Flight to the Lights” took 130 skygazers to get up close with the Aurora Australis

Yesterday, 130 lucky passengers got to see the Aurora Australis (the Southern Hemisphere's version of the Aurora Borealis) up close and personal on the first aurora-viewing charter flight out of New Zealand, reports Naaman Zhou at The Guardian.

According to Zhou, the flight left the town of Dunedin on New Zealand’s South Island around 9 P.M. local time for an eight-hour venture to the edge of Antarctica (62 degrees of latitude) and back. Passengers aboard the Boeing 767 were guaranteed to see the cosmic light show.

The idea was the brainchild of astronomer Dr. Ian Griffin, currently the director of the Otago Museum in Dunedin, reports Lydia Anderson at Radio New Zealand. When tickets for the “Flight to the Lights” went on sale last September, they sold out in five days, despite a hefty price tag—$1,400 for an economy class seat and $2,800 for business class. Passengers from as far away as Spain signed up for the trip.

The flight, at least according to some of the photos shared on Facebook, did not disappoint. “Our lives are forever altered by this incredible experience and we are eternally grateful to have been a part of this remarkable event”, passenger Roz Charlton wrote on Facebook, reports Zhou.

But some passengers weren’t thrilled by what they saw with the naked eye. “A number of people ... may have expected something a little bit more bright, but again we got some pretty lovely photographs,” Griffin tells Michael Daly at “Cameras are more sensitive than the eye, so they will always see more,” he explains.

The cones in the human eye, which detect color, are designed to work primarily during the day, according to James Bullen at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The rods, which help us see at night, only pick up grey and white. So detecting color at night is difficult for most people. Cameras, however, don’t have those limitations and can pick up color even in low light.

“What to the eye may look a pale green or even a white color—when you see a digital photograph the colors can be fantastic, it's pulled out all sorts of colors that we can't see with our eyes," David Neudegg, a space weather meteorologist, tells Bullen.

Zhou reports that the organizers are already planning another “Flight to the Lights” for next year.

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