Shortly after arriving in Tasmania to live I learnt it was possible to see the Aurora Australis or ‘southern lights’ on rare occasions. I’d never really contemplated that as an option before. I thought I’d have to go to the Antarctic or Arctic circles to have any chance of ever seeing them. So I set about finding out about them and how to keep abreast of sightings.

Aurora - Tasmania
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Aurora Australis, September 2012 (photo by Jonathan Esling Photography)

Aurora Spotting in Southern Tasmania

Words by David Moore and Photos by Jonathan Esling

For a great explanation of what Aurora Australis is go to the Australian Antarctic Division website. I tracked down newsgroups, SMS alert lists, iPhone apps and Facebook pages that would, hopefully, let me know when I could see an Aurora.

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(L) Interesting cloud formation & (R) Aurora Australis (Photos by Jonathan Esling Photography)

Firstly, each day I check these three websites as night time approaches:

  • The Aurora Alert page, Bureau of Meteorology IPS (Ionospheric
    Prediction Service) – this Government site provides alerts if the
    conditions are right. It is possible to sign up for email alerts.
  • The Auroral Activity page, Space Weather Prediction Centre
    for the Southern Hemisphere – this site shows a satellite map
    of the south pole with current Aurora activity overlayed. When
    the red mass covers where you are you should go outside and look up.
  • The Aurora Forecast page, Space Weather Prediction Centre – this
    is like the map mentioned above but a friendlier view.

 

I also subscribe to the Aurora Australis Tasmania Facebook page. On my iPhone I use the “Aurora Forecast” (Aurora FCST) free app.

Reward for Effort, Time and Money

All the tools I use are FREE. There are quite a few apps and websites where you can sign up for SMS alerts and the like for a fee. These may save you some time and effort if you don’t like going outside at night without a reason.

Aurora - Photography
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Jonathan’s most popular aurora image so far with 10,000+ views on Flickr

I have to say it still seems a rather imprecise and vague science. That is not surprising when you consider that a solar flare has to strike the Earth at just the right angle at just the right time under just the right atmospheric conditions for an Aurora to be created.


 

Still, in two years I have seen them twice because I went outside on a hunch as much as anything else (I certainly had not received any alerts as I’d expected). I was surprised by how fast moving they were. They were “searchlighting” and moving about the sky in apparent beams.

Recently, while holidaying overseas, the best displays since my arrival took place. Typical. But things are looking up (excuse the pun). We are entering a phase of increased activity so now is a great time to be looking skyward.

Aurora - Southern Lights
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Aurora Australis, October 2012 (photo by Jonathan Esling Photography)

So when you visit Tassie make sure you check for Auroras. Even if you don’t see the Aurora, I check every night despite the available technology and alerts, looking up at our clear skies and actually seeing the milkiness of the Milky Way is a reward in itself.

If you have a computer malfunction or problem, David Moore from
I Hate My PC is your man. And if you have vitally important data
on your computer that you need saved or stored, David Moore
can also help you with that through his Don’t Lose It system. You can
follow both I Hate My PC and Don’t Lose It on Facebook for great tips.

Images of the Aurora Australis

As David didn’t have photos to accompany this article, we asked Jonathan Esling if he would be willing to share some of his outstanding Aurora images with us. He said yes! We first met Jonathan when he shared a photo of a rare flower, the yellow form of Telopea Truncata with our Facebook followers via our Tassie Photographers album.

Aurora - Telopea Truncata
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Telopea Truncata (Tasmanian Waratah) shared with Think Tasmania by Jonathan Esling

Just so you know, Jonathan Esling is a horticulturalist by trade with a passion for photography and Tasmania’s natural flora and landscapes. When he is not capturing macro images of unique and intricate plants, he particularly enjoys photographing seascapes and, of course, the amazing Aurora Australis. His photography can be followed at Jonathan Esling Photography on Facebook and he has a photostream on Flickr. For further information, please email Jonathan Esling.

Aurora - Australis Images
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Capturing images like these are worth the effort (photo by Jonathan Esling Photography)

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