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The Aurora Australis

Southern Aurora Australis in Tasmania

The Aurora Australis

An Antipodean travel company serving World Travellers since 1983

The Aurora Australis

When it comes to the dazzling light displays of the Aurora, many will be more familiar with the well-known Northern Lights, or ‘Aurora Borealis‘. The aurora, however, is a phenomenon that is not unique to the northern hemisphere, with the lights occurring around both of Earth‘s geomagnetic poles. The Aurora Australis is the southern hemisphere‘s counterpart to the Northern Lights, being visible much of the year from places such as Tasmania, Patagonia, Antarctica, New Zealand‘s south island, as well as some parts of Victoria. While aurora sightings are not always reliable to plan or predict, the lights are a popular draw for tourists and locals alike, with aurora hunting rewarding those lucky enough to catch it with a surreal display unlike any other.

What is the Aurora Australis

Much like its northern counterpart, the Aurora Australis is caused by disturbances in Earth‘s magnetosphere by solar wind, the two poles aurora‘s even occur simultaneously, with each mirroring the other as the Earth‘s magnetic field is disturbed. The geomagnetic storm caused by the solar wind has the effect of pushing the auroral ovals further south towards the equator, creating the arcing lights that so characterize the lights, as well as making them visible from lower latitudes. When these solar storms occur, known as a coronal mass ejection, charged particles travel through space at incredible speed until they reach the magnetic field of the Earth. As these particles interact with the gases in the upper atmosphere, they create the beautiful phenomenon we know as aurora, with the colour of the light displayed depending on the gas the particles collide with: oxygen gives the well known yellow and green colours most associate with the aurora, while nitrogen produces red, violet and blue.

Walking beneath the Southern Lights

Where to see the Aurora Australis

The Southern Lights are equally visible across the southern hemisphere, with the proximity to the Earth‘s magnetic pole determining how prevalent and frequent the sightings are likely to be. For those in Australia, the best place to see the Aurora Australis would be from its southernmost point, namely Tasmania. Here some of the best places to see the aurora are in locations far away from major sources of light pollution, where the night sky is clear and undisturbed. With this in mind, locations such as Bruny Island, Cradle Mountain or the Central Highlands are amongst the best places to see auroral activity, with their natural beauty serving to further enhance the already magical experience. For those in New Zealand one of the best locations to see the aurora would be Queenstown, which, nestled in New Zealand’s towering southern alps is a dramatic vista even without the magic of the Southern Lights.

While the Aurora can be seen year round, the winter months are generally better for viewing the Aurora, where the longer nights and increased solar activity makes it more likely you’ll spot the phenomenon. Solar activity generally peaks around the two equinoxes in late March and September, which is best time of the year for the determined aurora chaser. While it’s difficult to predict auroral activity too far ahead of time, monitoring solar activity is a good predictor of when the aurora is likely to occur, with local Facebook groups, or other online sources being good resources to get an aurora forecast ahead of time.

The Aurora Australis visible over the summit of Mt. Wellington/Kunanyi, in Hobart, Tasmania.

Photographing the Aurora Australis

Aurora photography can be a precise art, but it’s an incredibly rewarding way to capture the rich colours and lights of the aurora. The lens of a good camera is far more sensitive that the human eye, and can capture aspects of the aurora that may not be immediately visible to the observer. With this in mind, Odyssey has published this article detailing what to bring if you’re planning on photographing the northern, or southern lights.

Photographing the Northern Lights

For those hoping to spot the Southern Lights, Odyssey offers tours to some of the best places to see the phenomenon, and keeping an eye out while on your adventure could make for an unforgettable bonus. Odyssey specialises in offering small group tours for solo, or senior travellers, with a keen emphasis on detail, and the history of each region we visit.

Mount Cook and Mount Tasman reflected in Lake Matheson at Sunset. New Zealand


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