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Aurora Australis, as viewed from Waitakere (Photo: Ben Gracewood, who has no need for this article)
Aurora Australis, as viewed from Waitakere (Photo: Ben Gracewood, who has no need for this article)

SocietyMay 13, 2024

How to cope with not seeing the aurora this weekend when everyone else did

Aurora Australis, as viewed from Waitakere (Photo: Ben Gracewood, who has no need for this article)
Aurora Australis, as viewed from Waitakere (Photo: Ben Gracewood, who has no need for this article)

Didn’t see the amazing and exquisite southern lights over the weekend? You’re not alone: Shanti Mathias has some tips on how to cope.

Not to gloat, but I had a very lovely weekend. I went for a long bike ride in the sunshine. I read a magazine on the back deck while eating an iceblock. I called a friend on the phone. I listened to some podcasts while finishing a sewing project. 

I felt engaged with the world around me; I talked to some people in the line at a cafe, read the entirety of the Spinoff’s weekend edition, went directly to the URLs of my favourite websites to read about what was happening in the world unmitigated by algorithms. On Saturday night I watched a documentary about surveillance conducted by the US government with my boyfriend. 

Before I went to bed, I saw several messages from a dear friend who is often enthused about the natural world. She sends me photos of her garden; she sends me photos of some of the weird new creatures from under the sea. She’d sent me some photos of a kind of unusual looking sunset with lots of exclamation marks and no other explanation. I wondered if I should get more excited about everyday phenomena like sunsets; sent a heart reaction; went to sleep. You see now where this is going. 

On Sunday afternoon, hanging out with some friends as we fixed bikes, I started to hear about the aurora australis. Suddenly the family group chat was popping off. “It was like a celestial sign from the gods,” said my sister, who was in a part of the South Island with absolutely no light pollution. “It was pretty cool, knowing it was caused by a geomagnetic storm,” said my bike-repairing friend. “Look at this cool photo from Whangārei,” said my aunty. My flatmates had gone outside to have a look while I was watching my documentary and hadn’t even invited me along. Everyone I knew (except me) had at least known to look for the aurora australis, the lights in the sky caused by the earth’s geomagnetic field intercepting huge amounts of radiation from a solar storm. SO WHY HAD NO ONE THOUGHT TO TELL ME UNTIL AFTERWARDS???!!!!!! 

Unfortunately, learning that there was a cool, free, phenomenal celestial light show in the sky that I missed out did ruin my otherwise lovely weekend. But I refuse to let it ruin my week. This is a helpful resource for those who did not see the aurora, either because they were ignorant, there were clouds, or there just didn’t seem to be much celestial activity where you were. 

Stage one: denial 

This is easy: you didn’t see the aurora = it didn’t happen. It’s very easy to deny things you didn’t know about, especially if you refuse to trust any evidence that doesn’t come directly from yourself. This isn’t particularly healthy. Moving on. 

Stage two: anger 

Obviously I am very mad at everyone who didn’t tell me about the most powerful solar storm since 2003. “Why didn’t you tell me?” I whined to at least 10 different people on Sunday afternoon. I reread this New Yorker story about what a powerful solar storm could do to the planet. “I hope all your push notifications and digital media sites get wiped out by an even more powerful solar storm,” I muttered, to no-one in particular.

The best way I found to cope with this extremely understandable and justified anger was some good stomping around the house. Apologies to my flatmate’s afternoon nap. There might not be another solar storm like this for several decades, and if there is I could easily be near the equator when it happens, or it could be a cloudy night. 

As seen from Duvauchelle, Banks Peninsula (Photo: Shirley Dowson)

Stage three: bargaining 

I extracted promises from several people that next time they hear of an extraordinary and rare cosmological event they must tell me immediately. I signed up for notifications from Space.com; its website was plastered with despicable pictures of radiant green and purple skies. 

I thought that maybe, the terrible experience of not seeing the aurora that had happened to me, specifically, and no-one else, might mean I would be blessed to see some magic (yet scientific) rippling ribbons of light in the sky on Sunday night. I didn’t see anything except the Sky Tower. (It was pink and quite pretty.) 

Stage four: depression

My flatmates went out for some drinks with neighbours. I promised I’d join them, but instead lay on my bed. “Nothing good ever happens to me, I never see anything special,” I thought, ignoring my healthy body, enjoyable work, clear skin, and photos on the wall of beautiful waterfalls, mountains and trees I have had the privilege of seeing, often with people who love me. 

Stage five: acceptance 

“Once in a lifetime opportunities come by more often than you think,” said my younger sibling sagely on the phone. I decided that I would definitely try to be in the path of totality for the solar eclipse that’s going through Aotearoa in 2028. I felt sick with jealousy looking at news photos of the aurora, so I closed the news sites. 

Really magnificent displays of aurora are uncommon, but with any luck, I might have a chance to see them in the future. I looked forward to this possibility with no (OK, only a little) resentment.

In the meantime, I reflected on the beautiful things there are to see in the sky more frequently: the fiery orb that lights and heats our planet from 149 million kilometres away often creates beautiful red, orange and pink light as our planet rotates, twice every 24 hours. The lump of rock that revolves around us also catches this light and reflects it as if through a glass, darkly: silvery and strange. When there isn’t light pollution, we can see the ancient light of thousands of stars, like shining celestial rivers. And if it’s “coloured lights in the sky” that I care about, I am lucky enough to live somewhere where there is the right amount of sunshine and rain to frequently see curving rainbows created by prisms of water and light. They’re extraordinary but they also happen all the time. 

I did not see the aurora this weekend, but I will be OK. And so will you.  

Keep going!