Aurora Over Antarctica: a “Teardrop From Heaven”

by Jason Major on July 19, 2012

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“We managed to snap a few photos before Heaven realised its mistake and closed its doors.”
– Dr. Alexander Kumar

This stunning photo of the Aurora Australis, set against a backdrop of the Milky Way, was captured from one of the most remote research locations on the planet: the French-Italian Concordia Base, located located at 3,200 meters (nearly 10,500 feet) altitude on the Antarctic plateau, 1,670 km (1,037 miles) from the geographic south pole.

The photo was taken on July 18 by resident doctor and scientist Dr. Alexander Kumar and his colleague Erick Bondoux.

Sparked by a coronal mass ejection emitted from active region 11520 on July 12, Earth’s aurorae leapt into high gear both in the northern and southern hemispheres three days later during the resulting geomagnetic storm — giving some wonderful views to skywatchers in locations like Alaska, Scotland, New Zealand… and even the South Pole.

“A raw display of one of nature’s most incredible sights dazzled our crew,” Dr. Kumar wrote on his blog, Chronicles from Concordia. “The wind died down and life became still. To me, it was if Heaven had opened its windows and a teardrop had fallen from high above our station, breaking the dark lonely polar night.

“We managed to snap a few photos before Heaven realised its mistake and closed its doors.”

With winter temperatures as low as -70ºC (-100ºF), no sunlight and no transportation in or out from May to August, Concordia Base is incredibly isolated — so much so that it’s used for research for missions to Mars, where future explorers will face many of the same challenges and extreme conditions that are found at the Base.

But even though they may be isolated, Dr. Kumar and his colleagues are in an excellent location to witness amazing views of the sky, the likes of which are hard to find anywhere else on Earth. Many thanks to them for braving the bitter cold and otherworldly environment to share images like this with us!

Read more on Concordia Base here.

Lead image: ESA/IPEV/ENEAA/A. Kumar & E. Bondoux. Sub-image: sunset at Concordia. ESA/IPEV/PNRA – A. Kumar

About 

A graphic designer in Rhode Island, Jason writes about space exploration on his blog Lights In The Dark, Discovery News, and, of course, here on Universe Today. Ad astra!

CallanTFC July 19, 2012 at 9:59 PM

Incredibly beautiful shot, and fantastic quote by Dr. Kumar. Thanks for sharing this

Peter Croft July 20, 2012 at 12:29 PM

I am joking, OK? Please don’t take offence. I an Aussie, OK?

French-Italian?? In Antarctica??!! How about using your own hemisphere messieurs and compagni?

Seriously, last Saturday was an internet write-off for me in Perth with a wireless modem. I didn’t know about the CME because I couldn’t connect, or stay connected, more precisely. Anyone who thinks wireless is a better alternative than fibre should go through a CME. No way.

Also, robotic surgical machines are now feasible for remote surgical operations. Which do you prefer when you’re on the operating table, wireless or fibre?

g_muppet July 20, 2012 at 8:25 PM

I’ve seen night photos of the Milky Way and the image in the background doesn’t look like any of them. This one does though: http://www.universetoday.com/95867/milky-way-to-concordia-base-come-in-concordia-base/

James Donnaught July 24, 2012 at 7:09 AM

Unlikely that you’ve seen photos of the sky at the South Pole.

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