Arctic Circle? No, Rye Back Beach
This article from The Age shows the amazing southern lights display in 2004
The southern lights, or aurora australis, have returned to
Victoria’s skies, delighting stargazers with their shimmering,
The spectacle should continue tonight and Friday, as waves of
highly charged particles from the sun – known as coronial mass
ejections – strike the Earth.
Perry Vlahos, of the Astronomical Society of Victoria, said
radio listeners had reported the lights on Tuesday. “They were all
saying there was a strange, eerie glow to the sky as they were
looking to the south,” he said. “They were seeing greenish hues and
He said auroras were more common when the sun reached the peak
of its 11-year activity cycle, appearing several times a year. But
now, near the bottom of the cycle, they were far rarer.
“They are a fairly reliable astronomical phenomenon when we
reach the solar maximum,” he told The Age. “But at times like these
it’s such a wonderful surprise to get solar activity and a display
such as we’ve had over the past several nights. It’s a bonus. We
don’t really expect it at all.”
He said they were best seen away from city lights, and
preferably on the coast. Viewers should look south.
The Australian space weather agency, IPS Radio and Space
Services, said the aurora had been seen as far north as
Coonabarabran, in northern New South Wales. The agency’s Patrick
Phelan said the sun discharged another coronial mass yesterday
afternoon, and it would hit Earth either tonight or on Friday. “The
storm is still in progress,” he said. “As soon as it gets dark it
should be visible.”
Auroras are visible at both the South and North poles on most
nights. Only during hyperactive solar activity are they visible
further away. There have been sightings in Canada and elsewhere in
the northern hemisphere, where the lights are known as aurora
A solar storm one year ago was ranked as one of the 20 worst
since records began in 1932. “It’s a decent storm, but it wouldn’t
be as big as that one,” said Mr Phelan. “That really was
He said there had been no reports of power grids or satellites
being affected by the solar activity. Only users of high-frequency
radio bands – used by aircraft, the military and emergency services
– would experience difficulty, he said.
The solar activity has been sparked by sunspots – dark,
intensely strong, Earth-sized magnetic fields on the sun’s surface.
The sunspots are the trigger for the mass ejections of the solar
particles. When the particles hit oxygen and nitrogen atoms in the
upper atmosphere, they strip the atoms of their electrons and leave
them in an excited state, causing them to glow. The Earth’s
magnetic field then draws the particles towards the poles.