Move over borealis, it’s our spectacle world wants to see

The lesser-known sibling of the famous northern lights is finally getting its day in the Sun – so to say – amid the peak in a 11-year cycle for the best viewing.

Aurora Australis, captured by amateur aurora chaser Peter Sayers in Tasmania. Picture: Peter Sayers
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Aurora Australis
The Australian
Noah Yim
Wednesday, March 20, 2024

The aurora australis, the lesser-known sibling of the famous northern lights – the aurora borealis – is finally starting to get the ­appreciation it deserves as budding aurora chasers from the mainland flock down south hoping for a glimpse of the spectacle. This coincides with a peak in solar activity – which operates on a roughly 11-year cycle – conducive to higher aurora activity.

Australia and New Zealand ­occasionally eclipses the northern hemisphere on usage of popular aurora forecasting app Glendale, developer Andy Stables says. “Australia and New Zealand is the fastest-growing region on the app,” Stabes tells The Australian. “The number of users has increased from about 2000 to about 10,000 in 2023. The number of ­server requests (hits) on the app from Australia and New Zealand on occasions exceeds the traffic from the northern hemisphere.”

Google Trends shows Australian searches for “southern lights” and “aurora australis” hit peaks in April and December last year.

The Bureau of Meteorology says auroras are caused by charged particles ejected from the sun (alpha particles i.e. two protons and two neutrons, and single proton and electron particles) that are deflected by Earth’s magnetic field and interact with the atmosphere at the poles – usually oxygen and nitrogen atoms that emit light when they are excited.

Peter Sayers, a Devonport-based amateur astronomer who has been chasing auroras for 35 years, said more mainland Australians had been seeking the counsel of Tasmania’s seasoned aurora-chasing community. “On Facebook groups … more and more people are saying, ‘oh, I’m in Tasmania for a week, where’s a good place to see the ­aurora?’,” Mr Sayers said. “But you’ve got to be really lucky to see it,” he added. “A lot of times I’m disappointed at not seeing it because of cloud cover. When you do see it, it’s absolutely amazing.

“The colours can be various as well – all the colours of the rainbow. Typically, they’re green or yellow, but they can be purple, red, all sorts of different colours and shapes. “Every aurora is different.”

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