Opportunity for pupil to see aurora australis

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Bright at night . . . A view of the aurora australis, or Southern Lights, from last year's flight from Dunedin to the Antarctic circle. PHOTO: BRAD PHIPPS

Oamaru man Damien McNamara will board a flight to view the aurora australis for a second time in March – and he hopes a local school pupil will come along for the ride.

The first flight out of Dunedin in March this year was the initiative of Otago Museum director and former Nasa Space Telescope Science Institute public outreach head Ian Griffin, and was the first of its kind in the southern hemisphere.

Next year’s flight will depart from Christchurch.

The second flight to the Antarctic circle was a result of the success of the first flight, and passionate astrophotographer Mr McNamara said he was just as excited this time as he was eight months ago.

“I thought I couldn’t really say no. There’s a plan this time to go further south, so there’s a hope we might actually get to see the Antarctic continent.

“They’re aiming for about 71deg south as opposed to 66deg, which will pretty much put us along the coast of Antarctica itself.”

Another reason he was excited was the prospect of a local school pupil accompanying him.

He had to buy two tickets for the flight as they were sold in pairs.

As his wife, Kayla, was not interested, he wanted to take a deserving secondary school pupil.

“They’ve got to be doing well at school,” Mr McNamara said.

“Preferably in art, photography or science. They’ve got to benefit from the flight. They might be going to university, or they might be heading into a job in the science or arts field.

“It’s just about giving back. Hopefully, I can encourage another student to do what I’ve done.”

Teachers or parents, in conjunction with each other, can nominate a pupil for the trip.

Nominations will be open until early February, when they will be assessed and the lucky recipient announced.

Mr McNamara said it would be a wonderful experience.

“You can’t just say on any old day you’ve been to Antarctica. I know we didn’t go to Antarctica, but we were within the Antarctic airspace. We got to see an aurora and we got to fly through an aurora.

“For a student, it might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“There are basically two things I want to get out of this flight. One, to give someone the opportunity to go along, and two, I want to see Antarctica.

“It’s a bucket-list thing.”

Nominations for the trip can be sent to Mr McNamara through his Altitude Surveying Facebook page, or by emailing altitude.surveying@gmail.com