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FEATURED TAS REPORT: Cycle of vibrant ‘ Aurora Australis ‘ displays in Tasmania may not have been a one off

Aurora Australis ‘

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Ace Press News From Cutting Room Floor: Published: Mar.27: 2023:

#AceNewsDesk – Tasmania has a reputation for spectacular Aurora Australis displays but even by the island state’s standards, the past few days have been stellar.

Pink and green lights of an Aurora Australis over water
The light show featured strong pinks and greens.(Supplied: Gill Dayton)none

Shutterbugs, both professional and amateur, have been primed to grab the camera bag and stay up all night to capture the spectacle — and the good news is there may be more on the horizon.

In fact, coming displays may be even better.

Some enthusiasts have described the past few nights as the biggest and brightest instances of Aurora Australis in years.

For amateur astronomer David Finlay, who has been chasing auroras across the globe for over two decades, Thursday night’s display was one of the greatest he has ever witnessed. 

“What I saw the other night from Franklin in Tasmania absolutely blew my socks off,” he said. 

Pink and green lights of an Aurora Austalis over water
Photographer Gill Dayton captured this image in southern Tasmania.(Supplied: Gill Dayton)none

Auroras get a little bit of a bad wrap that it’s only spectacular on camera, and that’s certainly part of it … but people also have the expectation they will see the same with the naked eye.

“That’s usually not the case because our eyes are very poor at picking up colour in low-light conditions.”

But it was not just the vivid colours that impressed him. 

“What I also saw, which was absolutely incredible — and the only way I could describe it — is these space weather bombs, these massive pulsing shock waves.”

“You can’t see that in photography … but with the naked eye and the video I took I got to see this rapid pulsing.

“It was almost violent in nature but it was so spectacular and beautiful and just added to the whole energy of the night.” 

Why were these auroras so vivid?

The aurora has been witnessed in other parts of south-eastern Australia.(Supplied: Rosven Giffard)none

The recent activity was also captured in parts of south-east Australia and New Zealand.

And while auroras are not a rare occurrence in Tasmania, astrophysicist Andrew Cole said the quality of recent ones only occurred every decade or so. 

“[Auroras are] completely random. It’s like weather … because it’s difficult to predict and you don’t know ahead of time really when they’re going to happen or how much you’re going to get,” he said.

“The sun has this magnetic activity cycle. Sometimes there are lots of sunspots and it’s a very turbulent solar atmosphere while other times it can be very, very quiet. 

Aurora Australis ‘@acenewsservices

“It can take between eight and 13 years, so 11 years on average for the cycle to repeat itself.” Time lapse of Aurora Australis captured in Tasmania(Courtesy: Matthew Qin)none

As the sun comes out of a low in its cycle and heads towards increased activity, it poses a greater likelihood of brighter and larger displays. 

“When the sun is very active — like it is now — then we tend to have a better-than-average chance of seeing something pretty good,” Professor Cole said.

And with solar activity not expected to peak until 2025, he said it was likely Tasmanians could look forward to more spectacular auroras over the next few years. Vibrant greens were also a feature in the recent night skies.(Supplied: Makayla Norris)none

Intense colours a highlight

Auroras occur when solar wind collides with atoms of oxygen and nitrogen from Earth’s atmosphere, causing a release of energy which is seen as colourful light displays.

The peak times are usually in the winter months.

On the public Aurora Australis Tasmania Facebook page, users also expressed delight and wonder and what they saw in the sky. 

“I had to keep looking left, right and up to take it all in,” said one person. 

“At its peak, the aurora was super bright and I could see the green and red very clearly. I’ve never seen that intensity of colour before, and I’ve seen many an aurora!” 

One watcher said Thursday night’s display was the “most spectacular” aurora he had experienced in almost two decades. 

“Bright pinks and red visible to the naked eye and ripples of light shooting overhead, on a clear night with no moon! A rare combination.” 

“The orange glow was brighter than Cindy Lauper’s 80’s hairstyle,” said another.

 “This was unbelievable to watch, you could have been mistaken for thinking aliens had knocked on our planet’s door.”

Aurora Australis ‘

When will they be back? ……..Those who missed last week’s shows can be assured that it was not just a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“For the next couple of years chances are going to be better than average, but like I said though, it’s going to be hard to predict when specifically,” Professor Cole said. 

David Finlay is a bit more optimistic they will appear sooner rather than later. 

“We got fantastic auroras four weeks ago and the ones from a few nights ago [but] we’re not at solar maximum yet … it can only improve from here,” he said. 

“They may possibly become more frequent and by that I mean average out in the year … and they’re possibly going to be as spectacular, maybe even better.”

Aurora Australis ‘

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