Aurora Australis / The Southern Lights (Image)
Unless you live in Antarctica, Tasmania is the arguably the best place in the Southern Hemisphere to witness this elusive and ethereal light show. All you need for a sighting is a broad horizon, away from artificial light and good timing.
The suns behaviour dictates the timing of the Aurora. Space weather maps, long range forecasts and other prediction tools can help, but we can only be relatively certain of a display 3 days out. Even then you need the right climatic and atmospheric conditions, low cloud cover and the moon to be in its darker phases.
The Auroras Australis occurs when charged particles burst from the sun, creating solar winds which then interact with Earths’ atmosphere. These solar winds are drawn towards the North and South poles, when they make contact with our atmosphere the reaction causes stunning displays of light in the sky. The colours depend on what gas molecules are being “excited” by impacts from the fast moving electrons of the solar winds. Impacts of electrons on oxygen emit greenish-yellow or even red lights depending how much energy is produced. Nitrogen impacts create a blue light.
When you Google pictures of both the Southern and Northern lights you will see images of the sky filled with rich greens, vivid blues and wild swirls of reds and purples. Often this is not what the naked eye can see. To the naked eye, most Aurora could be mistaken for a wispy cloud. It’s not until you do a long exposure with the camera that the colours are often revealed.
Winter is usually the best time to witness the Southern Aurora. In November 2020 a spectacular light display was seen across the island including in the suburbs of Hobart. Some of the best places to see an Aurora are Bruny Island, Satellite Island (you will need to rent the entire small island next to Bruny – maximum 12 guests), Cradle Mountain, Lake St Clair and the Central Highlands.
The Aurora Australis Tasmania Facebook group has an active community of more than 100,000 people, while the Aurora Australis Tasmania Alert NOW page delivers on-the-spot reports of Aurora sightings. If you are coming to Tasmania check out the likelihood of an Aurora during your visit and plan to be in a low light environment for the best possible display.
An additional note from Robert:
We very regularly have guests enquire about an Aurora sightseeing trip. Unfortunately the Southern Aurora are unpredictable enough that it is not really feasible for visiting tourists to plan tours around. The lights usually occur very late when most star gazers have given up and gone to bed. Annoyingly for us they also seem to like the very chilly nights!
Tasmania is not actually as far south as most visiting tourists imagine. Hobart at 42.88° south is still closer to the equator than we are to the South Pole. For this reason the Southern Aurora are not as spectacular or as common compared to the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis). The Borealis are often viewed from locations much closer to the Earth’s Pole which make them more frequent and predictable. For example Tromso, in Norway is regularly quoted as a premier tourist location to view the Northern Lights spectacle. At 69.9° North, Tromso is approximately 3000km closer to the Pole of the Earth compared to Hobart.
We would usually summarise by saying that in order to witness the Southern Aurora in Tasmania you will need to be extremely dedicated, extremely lucky or both!