Aurora hunting.

Before I moved to Tasmania, I knew about the northern lights. Everybody knows about the aurora borealis (heck, I even know how to spell it). If you’re close enough to the top of the world, sometimes you get a spectacular natural light show. It’s on most people’s bucket lists. Heck, it’s definitely on mine.

What I didn’t really know before I got here is that the southern lights are a thing, too. I don’t know how we Aussies ended up putting our stamp on the name, but down at the south pole it’s called the aurora australis (despite NZ, Chile and Argentina all reaching further south than Australia). Most people haven’t heard of it (compared to the borealis) and I expect that’s because southern land masses don’t get as close to the australis as northern land masses get to the borealis, so unless it’s an almost off-the-charts geomagnetic storm, the best we get is a beautifully coloured southern horizon.

A few weeks ago, some friends and I started talking about going on a stargazing adventure, which led to wondering if we could throw an aurora hunt in the mix. We didn’t take the conversation any further, but we should have, because only a couple of weeks after, I caught a glimpse of a bit of an aurora buzz on twitter. But we were unprepared! I hadn’t even looked at my camera! I had no idea how to take decent night photos! And of course, we missed out on the most spectacular aurora display there’s been since I moved here.

We rallied forces and tried the following evening, but of course two in a row would be too easy and it was not to be. It did give me the chance to trial my night photography skills, with thanks to a couple of patient friends, and I’ll admit I was still fairly blown away by the sky. I think that night was the first time I’ve looked up into the stars and thought, “Oh yeah, there’s the Milky Way, it’s freaking bright as all get-out and impossible to miss”. My friend also pointed out the Magellanic Clouds, or: two other galaxies that are identifiable by the naked eye. Two other galaxies. Oh, hey, there are a couple of galaxies. No big deal.

Learning about stars is amazing and I was pretty happy with at least a couple of the shots that I brought home.


Straight off the camera.

That weekend was only a couple of weeks ago, and so since then we’ve been keeping our eyes peeled and staying alert for any aurora warnings. I got out of a movie on Friday night (on the State Cinema rooftop) to a text from my friend, Liz. “Aurora alert! Caaaaaall meeeeeeeeee“. We jumped in my car and headed back down to Clifton Beach, where we’d been taking night photos (and wishing for an aurora) a fortnight ago.


Beautiful, yes. Aurora? No.

This is a thirty second exposure; it wasn’t actually that bright out, but it was still freaking bright! It was only two nights after the full moon so that slowly waning bad boy was still lighting up the night. We took a few night shots, jumped on the internet to see what locations other people were shooting from, and jumped back in the car to see if we couldn’t find somewhere a little more proper south-facing.

We ended up struggling our way up some dunes at Hope Beach and setting the tripods up. Liz was the first to get her hopes up, while I remained skeptical.

“I’m pretty sure you’re just seeing what you want to see.”

We both kept snapping away anyway (though I guess it’s not really snappy when you’re running 15-30sec exposures) because, from my point of view, at least it was more night photo practise.


12:30am. Green? Pfft.

I played around with some more night photography. I’ve since learnt that island is called Betsey Island. I think that island is my new favourite island. BETSEY. Afjahldkjakafddkad I literally just read more about it and Betsey Island is accompanied by Little Betsey Island and Betsey Reef, and they’re an Important Bird Area because Little Penguins breed there. I’m out. I’m out. I’m done.


12:54am. Betsey Island. Giggle.

Over the next half hour, I slowly started to change my mind about the green horizon.

At first I thought that maybe I just wanted to see something so badly that I started seeing it. Liz and I even got to the point where we were discussing clinical trials of placebos and mind tricks but finally I gave in and just accepted it. I think it did actually grow stronger during that half hour we stood there, but it’s still amusing how long it took me to accept the fact that the horizon did have a faint green halo.


1:05am. Erm, okay. Perhaps you’re right.


1:13am. Omgaurora.


1:28am. The littlest aurora halo that could!


Partner in crime, hard at work.

By then it was almost 2am and the aurora appeared to be fading a little, and we’d taken all the photographs we could. It was time to head back down the sand dunes and home, via McDonald’s for sustenance and 3am snacks.


Nobody fell, hurrah! (Seriously, the moonlight filling the exposure is ridiculous.)

I can’t wait to go hunting again.

(P.S. Happy Easter! No egg hunt for me this year, boo.)

11 thoughts on “Aurora hunting.

  1. I don’t know how we Aussies ended up putting our stamp on the name, but down at the south pole it’s called the aurora australis (despite NZ, Chile and Argentina all reaching further south than Australia).

    You’ve got that bit backwards! “Austral” means “of the Southern Hemisphere”, and Australia was at one point referred to as “Terra Australis” – the southern land.

    Sorry to have missed the most recent aurora hunting efforts, but keen to make it out for another night photography trip some time – and to bring my telescope for #starhob!

    • Oh, of course… I’m a fool! Shucks.

      We’ll find another one, don’t worry! I really want to get better at night photography too, so another night is definitely on the cards for sooner rather than later.

  2. Absolutely beautiful photos! I would love to see this with my own eyes some day.

    Incidentally the ‘australis’ in aurora australis has nothing to do with Australia the country. It’s just latin for “south”, aka ‘southern dawn’, just as in aurora borealis which is ‘northern dawn’. And of course Australia is the Great South Land.

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