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Passengers Take Flight To View Southern Lights

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So last year, Ian Griffin, an astronomer in Dunedin, New Zealand, was able to catch a ride on the NASA SOFIA. It's a Boeing 747 airplane with an observatory on board.

IAN GRIFFIN: And on that flight it had an absolutely amazing view of the aurora australis.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The aurora australis, neon green lights that dance across the southern skies.

GRIFFIN: So when I landed at the end of that flight, I thought, oh, my gosh, that was the most (unintelligible) thing I've ever seen. Wouldn't it be cool to try and organize a charter flight?

GREENE: And that is exactly what he did. He chartered a plane and sold the window seats - since you can't exactly see much from the aisle. He sold out in five days, even though there was not even a guarantee the lights would be visible in March.

MARTIN: Last week, 134 lucky passengers took off. And they paid a pretty good chunk of change to do so. Nick Wong was one of them.

NICK WONG: Some of my friends laughed at me and said that for that kind of money, you could actually fly to Finland and watch the northern lights. (Laughter). And I kind of thought, yeah, that's actually quite true. At the same time, I've never heard of anything like this happening before down here.

GREENE: So was it worth it for Ian the astronomer? Of course it was.

GRIFFIN: As we approached the southern limit of our flight, which was two-thirds of the way to the south pole, out of the windows we saw extraordinary displays of pulsating, auroral glows in the sky. And it was absolutely mesmerizing.

MARTIN: And for Nick...

WONG: Brilliant, absolutely amazing. I think it surpassed all my expectations. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.