It's probably just me - cue embarrassing confession! - but I had never even heard of the Southern Lights before this week. The Northern Lights, sure - there's plenty of hooplah about those and my father-in-law even sings a daggy song in a dreadful Scottish accent about them being in Aberdeen.
But the photos of the Southern Lights - Aurora Australis - which bedazzled the skies of southern Australia this week, coming as far north as Sydney, are every bit as gob-smacking.
Maybe it's because it's easier to get to Lapland than to Antarctica, where the Southern Lights usually reside. Maybe it's because stuff that happens in other people's backyards generally seems more exotic than stuff that happens in your own. Whatever the reason, I'm the Southern Lights' new biggest fan.
The Southern Lights (and the Northern Lights for that matter) are caused by an intense solar storm. It happens when hot plasma bursts shoot from the sun and collide. Sounds pretty wild, doesn't it?!
Mashable explains it like this:
Auroras are created when charged particles in space interact with Earth's magnetic field, exciting neutrally charged particles in Earth's upper atmosphere. Once agitated, these particles glow red, green, purple and other colors depending on the types of elements excited in the atmosphere.
And the best bit? These light displays are most common during the solar maximum period of the sun's 11-year cycle. Right now, the sun is in the later part of that cycle so there is an increased chance of aurora sightings over the next few years. I'll be tuned to the weather from now on!