See the Sky Dancing in Tasmania

See the Sky Dancing in Tasmania

September 10, 2019 0 By AJ

Natural beauty is not limited to the forests, rivers, lakes and mountains in Tasmania. If you look up to a clear night sky you may also see the Aurora Australis. The Aurora Australis is also referred to as the Southern Lights.

I’ve not yet seen the Aurora Australis with my own eyes.  

I have been a “theoretical aurora chaser” for years, however, I don’t like driving at night. This tends to be a big inhibitor to being able to view aurora.

I have been lucky to have ventured to Norway, Finland and Iceland on Aurora Borealis chasing missions. To witness the sky dancing above you is truly something to behold.

I was privileged to witness an amazingly vibrant Aurora Borealis in the Arctic Circle outside of Tromso, Norway last year.

The Aurora Australis

The Southern Lights don’t just happen every Thursday night. The Southern Lights are kind of a beautiful nuisance in that regard.

“Come to Tasmania to see the Aurora” would be brilliant marketing for the Tasmanian tourism industry (as it is for our far northern friends) if it could be guaranteed. Unfortunately, there is no switch to flick.

However, the lights are a drawcard for photographers, sky gazing enthusiasts, the curious minded and generally interested alike. 

So much so, that the Facebook book group Aurora Australis Tasmania has seen it’s following increase to over 83k members since its inception in 2011.

Tasmania is the best place to view the southern lights in Australia. Our friendly neighbour New Zealand is another good option to view the aurora in the region.

A recent Aurora Australis over Hobart, Tasmania. Image Credit: Kerry Adams.

As far as Australia goes, Tasmania is the furthest south. Tasmania generally doesn’t get above head aurora due to the latitude being too far north, like the Nordic countries, Alaska or Canada, and of course, The Arctic and Antarctica. Macquarie Island is a ripper spot, if you just happen to be there.

It has been seen as far north as southern Queensland – that would’ve been one helluva show down south.

It’s said that a camp fire was the first television, then an aurora was the first OLED screen.

Take a look at an Aurora from November 2017 by Daniel Lam.

The 5 Most Asked Questions

“Where will I see the aurora tonight?”

“We’re coming to Tasmania in two months time. Where is a good place to see it?”

Regular questions about viewing the aurora australis on the Aurora Australis Tasmania Facebook group.

I grabbed this information from the Aurora Australis Tasmania Facebook Group and thought I’d share it with you:

  • What is it: So, really what is it?

Auroras are one of nature’s most spectacular visual phenomena. Auroras are the optical signatures of electrical currents flowing up and down the magnetic field lines which are almost vertical at high latitudes.

  • What causes an aurora:

A more in-depth sciencey explanation can be found here. However, for the basics it just goes “poof”. Auroras are created by the interaction of charged particles raining down into the earth’s atmosphere from space.

  • When does it appear:

No one knows for certain when an aurora will occur. There are indicators than can be used to better estimate when an aurorae may occur. Auroras are more likely to occur close to equinoxes in late March and late September. The winter months are naturally good aurora chasing months as the nights are longer. Some of Tassie’s best recent displays have been as early as 9pm!

  • Where can I see them:

All of Tasmania is really equally good as long as you find a spot away from all light with a clear view to the south. Most Tasmanian auroras only reach the horizon, so make sure you have a clear view.

Multiple bands of aurora on display in Tasmania.

It is best to find a spot before an aurora occurs so you’re not wandering around in the dark looking for a place to set up when you could be looking skyward.

Check this map for some viewing locations.

  • Will I see it without a camera:

Only if an aurora is exceptionally bright. For faint aurora some people see tints of colour while others see monochrome.

Photographing the Aurora Australis

You will need some gear first. Not necessarily high end gear, but gear nonetheless:

  • Camera
  • Wide Angle Lens
  • Tripod
  • Timer
  • Batteries
  • Memory cards
  • Torch / headlamp

Check out this step by step guide on how to take photos/videos of the Aurora Australis.

From experience, I’d also like to suggest you take the lens cap off… yup.

For a tutorial on how to take photos take a look at the video by Daniel Lam below:

So if you’re in the neighbourhood and the conditions are right, become an Aurora Chaser for a night or two and you may just get to witness a space phenomenon. That’d be a beautiful bonus to your Tasmanian escape.

Seven Super Southern Lights Facts

  1. The term Aurora Australis was named by Captain James Cook. Australis means “southern”.
  2. Aurora Borealis was coined in 1619 by either French astronomer Pierre Gassendi or Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei. It was named after the Roman Goddess of dawn Aurora and the Greek name for wind, Boreas.
  3. The most common auroras are red and green. The colours of the polar lights depend on whether electrons collide with oxygen or nitrogen, and how energetically. Oxygen emits greenish-yellow or red light, while nitrogen generally gives off blue light; the blending of these produces purple, pink, and white. Our night vision is most sensitive to green light so we are more likely to see the oxygen green line emissions. Nitrogen auroras are sometimes blue, or a mixture of blue and red (purple). Some nitrogen aurora emissions are in the ultraviolet part of the spectrum, which we can’t see.
  4. Auroras change shape – Hence the term ‘sky dancing’.
  5. Often seen as curtains of light because the particles of plasma are moving in response to the earth’s magnetic field. 
  6. Auroras are more likely (but not exclusive) to occur close to equinoxes in late March and late September. 
  7. Earth is not the only planet where auroras occur – Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Mars also encounter auroras.

Happy Aurora Australis chasing, amigos and amigas.