15 January 2009

Streaks in the Sky

While watching TV tonight, I asked Sara what the flashing lights in the sky were.
"What flashing lights?" she asked, peering out the window, while sneaking disbelieving sideways glances at me. She couldn't see anything.
"Out there! Is it lightning? Or fireworks?" It couldn't be fireworks, surely - the lights were so high up in the sky.
"I still can't see anything." Sara replied, and went back to watching the TV.

In my head I began theorising as to what this marvellous sight could be. My first thought was that it could be nebulae exploding. I do wonder if this is because I love the word "nebula". When Sara finally saw the lights, I asked her if she thought it might be nebula, too.
"What on earth is one of those?" she asked.
"Oh... it's like a star nursery." I explained, suddenly shy of my inner science geek. At the same time, I'm kind of secretly proud of the fact that I actually wonder about things like this. She didn't really share my enthusiasm for the subject, and instead decided it was aliens fighting with "whirly guns". Which it could well be.

Since going to bed (after sitting on the deck and watching it, fairly mesmerised, for an hour or so), I've started to wonder if maybe what I saw tonight was the Aurora Australis. I mean, I doubt it, because I'm of the understanding that the aurora, or "Southern Lights" a) can't be seen from New Zealand, b) are bright, colourful and exciting and c) are static, rather than flashing lights.

A particularly gorgeous example of the Aurora Australis, courtesy Wikipedia

So now I really don't know what I saw tonight. I'm hoping whatever it was gets on the news tomorrow, so my poor brain can get some rest. Either way, the aurora is something that's pretty much blowing my mind as I research it for this post.

They're created with the Earth's magnetosphere, solar winds, and all sorts of other exciting astronomy-related things. I can't get enough of science. Or nature, for that matter.

The nebula idea has pretty much gone out the window as I've learnt that nebulae are really just interstellar clouds of dust. Still, these clouds DO create stars (hence, star nursery) - but they don't really explode. Turns out, nebulae are in fact created by supernova explosions.

Anyway, if you live in Auckland and saw the exciting streaks in the sky tonight, educated banter on what it might have been is welcome.

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