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The next Aurora Australis: When it will happen, and where you can watch it

Source: BOM

Slept through last month’s Aurora Australis? Don’t worry, this year has a few more in store – possibly as soon as this weekend.

However, the upcoming aurora won’t be as spectacular as the recent display, and will only be visible in select regions in Australia.

Monash University associate professor in astronomy Michael Brown said the further south you are, the better chance you have of seeing the southern lights.

Tasmanians will have the best views, while people in Victoria, South Australia, southern Western Australia and southern NSW will also get the chance to see auroras throughout the year.

“[It’s] pretty close to inevitable that there’ll be some good opportunities during 2024 for seeing more aurora,” he said.

“We’re getting more aurora at the moment than we’ve had for a couple of decades, and the big display back in May was an extreme illustration of that.”

Queenslanders hoping to get a repeat of the colourful southern lights show they enjoyed last month will be left disappointed.

Brown said the Aurora Australis being visible in the state was an “exceptionally rare” event and unlikely to be repeated in this lifetime.

When will the next aurora occur?

Unfortunately, there’s no way to definitively forecast the date and time of future auroras.

Auroras are sparked when the sun’s corona (the outermost part of the sun’s atmosphere) ejects particles known collectively as solar wind.

The solar wind hits Earth’s magnetic field and travels towards the north and south magnetic poles; the interaction of these particles with gases in Earth’s atmosphere result in beautiful displays of light.

Brown said while the timing and size of coronal mass ejections were “unpredictable”, once they occur, auroras can typically be expected within a few days.

The Aurora Australis in Torquay, Victoria in May. Photo: Alex Zucco/Getty

He suggested keeping up to date on information from organisations such as Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Social media can also be useful, with platforms such as Facebook home to groups dedicated to keeping track of auroras.

“It’s possible a coronal mass ejection could happen tomorrow, and we could have an aurora at the end of the week or the weekend,” he said.

“That’s not out of the realms of possibility at the moment, [but] the Sun’s [currently] pretty quiet.”

How do I get the best view?

If you find out that an aurora is occurring, Brown recommended getting as far from city lights as possible, and heading somewhere with a clear view of the southern horizon.

For example, Brown said he was among possibly thousands of people who observed the aurora in May from Victoria’s Cape Schanck.

And although you might want to remain entirely in the moment while soaking in the southern lights, he said it could be worth snapping a few pictures with your mobile phone.

“Mobile phones are really good at taking photos of aurora. They actually provide views that are a bit better than what the human eye can do,” he said.

“There’s going to be good aurora … during the rest of 2024. You’ll need to keep your eyes peeled, maybe look at the relevant social media pages.

“Also, I want to temper expectations. [The] May spectacular display was one of the best for decades, possibly longer. So we probably won’t get a repeat of that, but it still will be really good and worth having a look.”

Topics: Astronomy
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