The stars align…southern lights (Aurora Australis) 18 March 2015

What can one really say about an event like this. With the number of variables that aligned this night, it beggars belief that I walked away with the images and experience that I did. I vaguely follow space weather activity as auroral activity at this latitude is rare to say the least. However given the sun was near the maximum of the solar cycle and an enormous sunspot had been aimed at earth for a couple of days now, I knew in the back of mind there was the chance of CME’s.

Just as I was about to head to bed, a chance post on facebook alerted me to G7 storming that was occurring, so I though screw it given I had clear skies and drove a couple minutes down the road. I noticed a slight glow on the southern horizon, however given Adelaide is due south (about 120km) and puts out hideous amounts of light pollution, I thought it was more than likely that. Having neglected to bring a tripod I sat my camera on the road with the UWA lens on and fired off a shot with an extreme exposure (ISO 6400, 30 sec at f/3.5) and was shocked to see that this was indeed the elusive aurora australis I had always wanted to see. At this latitude (33.5 degrees south), red aurora with little to no beams is usually the best one can hope for, and this is what my camera showed. Given there was very little in reality to look at, I drove home shortly after and went to bed.

The glow of aurora australis with a vibrant milky way. The yellow tinge to the glow is more than likely the light pollution from Adelaide. Night skies can be remarkably vivid up this way.

After tossing and turning for a couple of hours, I check facebook again and see that a strong burst of activity was occurring that very minute, and seeing a G8 storm was now in progress (severe solar storm) I chucked my things in the car and flew down the road. As I was driving I noticed as my night vision improved that through the trees to the south, the entire southern horizon was glowing with ghostly hues. I arrive to see beams of light dancing across the skies like spotlights on the horizon, flickering away with a deep magenta colour filling the sky, and a slight green glow low on the horizon. I was in utter shock at that moment as I soon realised this was far from your average event. It was hypnotising to watch, as there is something so damn alien about the phenomena, seeing otherwise pitch black skies glow like this is just something you have to see in person to really appreciate. I fire off an exposure on my camera and am even more shocked by what the camera sees. Multiple beams, strong reds and even greens have been easily picked up. Whilst I feel the show might have been slighter stronger during my drive to the location, I feel truly blessed that I had the opportunity to witness such an event from this latitude, it was truly a once in a decade event.

Spectacular beams light up the southern sky. The beams were moving rapidly enough you could track their progress with the eye across the sky. Immensely beautiful. You can notice the sky above isn’t dark…the more purpely upper parts of the aurora were causing this, which would be obvious had I had the opportunity to chuck the UWA on (image at 17mm @ 1.6 crop).

The brightest beam I captured…it’s quite remarkable just how bright it really was in person. The gulf pumps moisture over Adelaide preventing an influx of light pollution. The colour might look a bit odd on some screens…but no matter how i attempted to alter the white balance or colour balance i could never get rid of this pink tinge…can only assume that’s as it was.

Here’s why this was such a statistical amazement.

  • The aurora occurred during a moonless period, during the night.
  • Bar a few cloudless patches in parts of Victoria, for the most part it was COMPLETELY clouded out south of me, all the way to Tasmania. In fact, Tasmanians themselves all but missed out despite the activity occurring almost overhead. The bank of cloud that can be seen on the horizon was actually producing light rain in the Adelaide area. Even to my east in the Clare Valley, there was almost 100% cloud cover to the south.
  • The cloud had the added effect of being low and dense enough to completely rid the southern horizon of Adelaide’s light pollution.
  • Had I not quickly checked facebook before going to bed I would have completely missed out.
  • Had I been able to fall asleep I would have missed the main event, arriving dead on the strongest activity of the decade.
  • The cloud was so temperamental that within 20 minutes of the main event, I lost 70% of the sky to stratus. So even if this occurred 20 minutes after it did I would have missed out.
  • I had only very recently moved back to the area, literally a couple of weeks beforehand, had I still lived in Adelaide I would have missed it.

So in essence I had one of the best views in the south of Australia that night. It was so strong the aurora was seen in southern Northern Territory and Queensland. Very few people saw this event, indeed no one I talked to personally was even aware it had occurred. The last time Aurora near this scale was sighted in South Australia this far north (that I am aware of, certainly not to say it was the last time) was around 2000. To see such strong colour at this latitude is extraordinary. It may have nothing on viewing them from directly beneath as many in the northern hemisphere are regularly treated to, but it makes it special that this was viewable from my home town.

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2 Responses to The stars align…southern lights (Aurora Australis) 18 March 2015

  1. selah says:

    no words for how beautiful these photos are. I am sure glad that I found your blog.

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