Aurora Australis: How To Catch A Rare Glimpse Of Australia's 'Southern Lights'
For the second time this month, the southern skies are set to light up -- and Aussie enthusiasts could catch a rare glimpse.
The Aurora Australis, or Southern Lights, are very likely to be seen from parts of Tasmania and southern parts of Victoria in the early hours of Thursday morning (we're talking between 3am and 4am).
Auroras are heralded as rare events when the night sky lights up in ethereal colours. The more famous Aurora Borealis attracts hoards of tourists who travel to the very north of the globe -- to Norway and Iceland -- to catch a glimpse.
Lucky for us, the dazzling colours of auroras can also be seen in Australia.
READ MORE: There's A Meteor Shower Tonight And Australia's Got The Best Seat
So, What Actually Brings On The Lights?
Dr. Rebecca Allen from the Swinburne University Space Office said auroras are the result of charged particles, such as electronics, which are sent out from the sun at very high speeds.
"Because they are charged particles, they interact with our magnetic field, which has several magnetic field lines that loop from the North Pole down to the South Pole," she told 10 daily.
When these particles interact with the Earth's magnetic field, they are quite literally accelerated along the field line, creating what's called an auroral ring.
"When we have a high concentration of these energetic particles, some of them are going to interact with atoms in our upper atmosphere -- and they get excited," Allen explained.
"That's what creates the colour."
Why Is This Happening Now?
It has everything to do with the solar cycle. Right now, the sun is technically supposed to be in a period of relative calm, with few "solar flares". Allen said we're seeing the opposite.
"What is happening is there are a number of coronal mass ejections (CME) -- where the sun quite literally burps out clouds of plasma that are accelerated from the sun's own magnetic field at really high speeds," she said.
"It's a lot of material all at once, and when that interacts with our magnetic field, it has a dramatic effect."
With mass CMEs, the auroral ring around the poles -- which is normally very narrow -- widens.
Hello, light show in parts of Victoria and Tasmania.
How can we see the Aurora Australis?
CMEs are relatively slow, which is difficult to comprehend on a cosmic scale. But it's predicted they will arrive over May 15 and May 16.
Weather permitting, Allen said the peak viewing time is predicted to be the early hours of Thursday morning between 3am and 4am (after the moon has set).
When it comes to getting the best view, darkness is key when witnessing astronomical event.
"If you're in Tasmania, the east coast north of Hobart -- where it is forecast to be partly cloudy with relatively favourable conditions -- is best," Allen said.
Those in rural parts of southern Victoria will have the best chance of catching a glimpse.
Why Should We Care?
There is a darker side to these pretty lights.
Allen stressed the importance of the Earth's magnetic field in shielding these energetic particles that are "exciting" our atmosphere.
"That actually means that if there was enough of them, and we didn't have a magnetic field, we wouldn't have an atmosphere," she said.
"While it is nice you can potentially see the lights at higher or lower latitudes from the poles, it also represents something that can be potentially dangerous."
Featured image: AAP