On 16th September 1770, Captain Cook’s expedition to Australia witnessed the Aurora Australis, becoming the first Europeans to note the astonishing light show.
Aboard HMS Endeavour, botanists Joseph Banks wrote in his journal:
“About 10 O’Clock a Phaenomenon appeard in the heavens in many things resembling the Aurora Borealis but differing materialy in others: it consisted of a dull reddish light reaching in hight about 20 degrees above the Horizon: its extent was very different at different times but never less than 8 or 10 points of the compass. Through and out of this passd rays of a brighter colourd light tending directly upwards.”
Unknown to Cook and his fellow explorers, the lights are created when energetic particles, principally electrons, strike the upper atmosphere and travel along Earth’s magnetic field lines. (The same principle operates in a flourescent tube or neon light.)
Glow in the dark coin
The reverse of this 2013 silver coin from the popular Australian Antarctic Territory Series features a representation of this natural wonder also known as the Southern Lights. Coloured with glow-in-the-dark ink, the portrayal of Aurora Australis glows in the dark!