They took an eight-hour flight just to look out the airplane’s window, but it was an extraordinary view. A charter plane left Dunedin, New Zealand, one night in March 2017, and flew close to the Antarctic Circle to give the eager passengers an up-close look at the Aurora Australis, or Southern Lights.
Otago Museum Director Ian Griffin came up with the idea. An astronomer, Griffin said he was inspired after seeing the Southern Lights while flying as a guest on a NASA observatory plane. He says the 134 seats on the chartered Boeing 767 sold out within five days and one man travelled from Spain for the trip. He says he could have filled the plane several times over, although they were only selling window seats and seats immediately adjacent, leaving the middle of the aircraft empty.
“I thought it was absolutely brilliant,” Griffin said. “We were right under it. There were beautiful streamers, auroral streamers. This green-coloured stuff that moves quickly, it looks like you’re looking into a green, streaky river.”
The aurora is caused by particles from the sun interacting with the Earth’s magnetic field.
Griffin said the plane travelled to more than 60°S and offered about five hours viewing time. He said he chose a day close to the equinox and when the moon phase would allow maximum darkness. One seat cost $2,000 New Zealand dollars, double that for business class.
Griffin said he’s thinking about another trip next year. Because the Boeing 767 is being decommissioned and the trip proved so popular, he said he may seek a larger jet.