Photos: Afterglow of Tonga eruption illuminates sky above Antarctica

By 1news.co.nz

Scientists in Antarctica have captured beautiful photos of illuminated skylines like those recently seen in New Zealand, thanks to the Tongan volcano.

Antarctica
Antarctica (Source: Stuart Shaw/Fly On The Wall Images)

The photos, taken by Antarctica New Zealand science technician Stuart Shaw, show a usually dark sky lit up by bright hues of orange, purple and pink.

Shaw, who is stationed at Scott Base was surprised by the lights, as Antarctica is usually dark during the mid-winter.

He said the whole team at the base was excited by what was happening.

“Usually in mid-winter, Antarctica is nearly continuously dark, except for a slight ‘nautical twilight’ at around midday which means the horizon is faintly visible in good conditions.

“But this year, we were presented with quite a show, which had most of the station personnel grabbing jackets and running outside with their cameras to look at the awesome colours,” Shaw said.

View of afterglow from Hut Point looking north towards McMurdo Station
View of afterglow from Hut Point looking north towards McMurdo Station (Source: Stuart Shaw/Fly On The Wall Images)

Shaw recognised the phenomenon after seeing similar photos of skies in New Zealand, realising the colours were an “afterglow” caused by the volcanic eruption in Tonga earlier this year.

READ MORE: Stunning skies may be due to remnants of Tonga volcano eruption

NIWA forecaster Nava Fedaeff says the glow is caused by sulphate particles and salt-water vapour becoming aerosols in the stratosphere after being shot into the sky by a volcano.

“Stratospheric aerosols can circulate the globe for months after a volcanic eruption, scattering and bending light as the sun dips or rises below the horizon, creating a glow in the sky with hues of pink, blue, purple, and violet.

“These volcanic twilights are known as ‘afterglows’, with the colour and intensity depending on the amount of haze and cloudiness along the path of light reaching the stratosphere,” Fedaeff said.

A satellite scanned the skies above the continent and found that the aerosols were not present before the eruption.

Afterglow from north-east from the top of the Hilary Trail, showing Scott Base with the moon in the background
Afterglow from north-east from the top of the Hilary Trail, showing Scott Base with the moon in the background (Source: Stuart Shaw/Fly On The Wall Images)

Antarctica New Zealand’s Chief Science Adviser Jordy Hendrikx said that “nature never fails to put on a show in Antarctica.”

He believes that phenomenons like these show how connected the world is.

“These photographs capture the awe it inspires. Antarctica is some 5000km from New Zealand, some 7000km from Tonga, but we share our skies,” he said.

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