Whenever the subject of Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights crops up, most people think of Norway, Iceland or the Arctic. But with the sun’s 11-year solar cycle coming to an end, these nature wonders are fading and may not be seen as often for another decade. Fortunately for us in Asia, the Southern Hemisphere has its own light show – the Aurora Australis or Southern Lights.
The Southern Lights is deemed a fairly ‘recent discovery’ as one of the pioneer spotters – Margaret Sonnemann, only saw the phenomenon slightly more than 15 years ago. Today her Facebook group, Aurora Australis Tasmania, has more than 45,000 members and she’s the author of Aurora Chaser’s Handbook.
Source – NASA Space Place.
Southern Lights explained
The Aurora Australis, or Southern Lights, happens when the sun releases a massive burst of solar wind and magnetic fields into space, also known as CME (coronal mass ejections).These solar winds carry particles which interact with earth’s magnetic field, colliding to produce energy releases in the form of auroras. Oxygen gives off green and red light. Nitrogen glows blue and purple. Auroras are more frequent and vibrant during the intense phase of the solar cycle when coronal mass ejections increase the intensity of the solar wind.
Best location and season to spot the Southern Lights
Tasmania is the ideal location to see the Aurora Australis because sightings are common in many parts of Tasmania’s southernmost regions throughout autumn (March to May), late winter (July to August) and early spring ( September to November). The best time to spot the aurora is from June to September during the winter months as it gets darker earlier, presenting more precious time to capture the Southern Lights.
Video credit: Ian Stewart, one of the pioneers of aurora photography in Tasmania.
Aurora photography techniques
The 1st important tip is understanding the aurora forecast. Familiarise yourself with forecasting websites and mobile app – iOS or Android. Although there is much tracking of this natural phenomenon, it still involves a lot of luck in being in the right place to spot the lights at its most vibrant. As the sighting is usually after midnight to 2-3am, you need to get sufficient rest and be clothed appropriately especially during winter. Also, at all cost, avoid shooting during full moon as a weak aurora display might be subdued in bright moonlight, just as bright moonlight can drown faint stars from view.
- Type of camera – DSLR (Full frame or APS-C) recommended (ISO setting 800, 1600, 3200)
- Setting – Shutter speed 15-30s, Aperture – F2.8 – 4 (or maximum), manual focus
- Lens – Wide angle – range 16-35mm (full frame) or 10-22mm (APS-C)
- Tripod – Sturdy type to minimize on vibration
- Batteries – standby spare as cold temperature reduce working capacity.
- Cable / remote release to avoid shifting the camera by hand
As the Southern Lights are nature phenomenon, sightings are subject to being at the right place, time and ideal natural conditions.
P.S – All pictures used in this article are all rights reserved and copyrighted to Jensen Chua Photography and Jetabout Holidays. Illustration from NASA Space Place and video by Ian Stewart .