DUNEDIN, New Zealand — An eight-hour flight that goes in a circle might sound like an airline debacle, but for the 134 passengers on the first chartered flight to see the southern lights, it was all about the view.
The so-called “Flight to the Lights” left from Dunedin, New Zealand, on Thursday night, and after a few hours of chasing the aurora australis, returned early Friday morning.
Brad Phipps, one of the passengers on board, shared a photo from the flight on Facebook showcasing the lights from his seat window, adjacent to one of the plane’s wings.
“Just woken up from a truly amazing experience. A flight to the Antarctic Circle to witness the aurora, and she didn’t disappoint,” Phipps wrote.
The flight came at a price, with economy seats costing around $2,800. But for most passengers, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. When tickets for the flight went on sale in September, all seats were sold out within five days.
So what causes such an Instagram-worthy light show? Essentially aurora form when solar wind — which are particles streaming from the sun — get caught up in the Earth’s magnetic field at both the northern and southern poles.
“The solar wind interacts with gas ions high in the Earth’s atmosphere and causes them to become ‘excited,’ or energized, releasing the colors that we see in the Aurora,” meteorologist Brandon Miller said.
While it’s possible to see the phenomenon from the ground, there are distinct benefits to checking the lights out from the sky.
“When you are above the clouds and in the high latitude belt where auroras are most common, even weak auroras will be visible, so you do not need a strong event to occur, making it almost a guarantee to see something beautiful,” Miller said.