A time-exposure photo of aurora borealis at Island View Beach in Central Saanich.
James Younger / Times Colonist
It doesn’t happen often in southwestern B.C., but nighttime observers the past few nights have been treated to the spectacle of the aurora borealis — the northern lights.And Karun Thanjavur, senior lab instructor for the University of Victoria’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, was holding out hope for another show overnight Tuesday.“This is quite far down south,” he said. “All put together it was fairly uncommon to see aurora at this time of the year from Victoria.”A storm on the sun contributed to the appearance, Thanjavur said.“The sun is a very active star,” he said. “It looks like the storm is abating right now which means the activity will die off.”The phenomena of northern and southern lights happens when gases and material break away from the sun, Thanjavur said.“Because these are charged particles, the [Earth’s] magnetic field diverts those particles toward the north and the south pole.”The result is the aurora borealis in the north and the aurora australis in the south.To see the aurora borealis in the region, it is best to be in a dark area and cast your eyes low to the north, Thanjavur said.“That’s because this is happening mainly up north, and we are at 48 degrees so we are way off from the north.”Chances are it would be best seen in a picture taken with a long exposure, he said.In Vancouver, it’s a bit tricky to see the Northern Lights, given the light pollution and the mountains in the north, said Michael Unger, programs coordinator at the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre in Vancouver.Though he said he has heard from several people who saw the show over the last two nights in the city, and said it still may be possible to get a glimpse Wednesday night.“You need to be in the right place at the right time,” said Unger. “Closer to the water can be a really great place to see them because you have more sky to look at to the north.”Another place he recommends is a wide open park, such as McDonald the “dark sky” park in Aldergrove.Sky watchers have more to look forward to this week — the annual July-August appearance of the Perseid meteor shower is expected to reach its peak.“It’s the debris from a comet orbiting the sun,” Thanjavur said. “The Earth passes through the debris.”The comet is Swift-Tuttle and the meteor shower is named for the constellation Perseus.According to earthsky.org, some of the best viewing will be in the morning on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.“If you’re in the city you’ll only be seeing the brighter ones,” Thanjavur firstname.lastname@example.org files from Tiffany Crawford