Aurora Australis

Biggest auroral display for over 20 years! The great aurora of 11-12 May 2024

At around 3:00 am on 11 May 2024, a series of CMES associated with at least 4 X flares impacted the Earth's magnetic filed. It generated auroral activity on scale some described as the best since 2003. One commentator even said the intensity of solar activity in the days preceding the event was unmatched since the 1930s.

I was fortunate enough to be on a two week photography trip in Tasmania. The trip had been booked several months before.

On 10 May from about 5:45 pm to about 1:30 am on 11 May we had maintained a patient vigil waiting for the expected solar storm. However, it did not arrive so we went back to our accommodation. For some reason I awoke at 3 am and decided to wander up the side of our accommodation to try and see the solar wind readings were doing to discover the storm had just started and it was at G3 (severe storm level). I looked to the south but could see no white glow of the aurora. Hover about 10 minutes later, it could easily be seen to the south as we drove 5 minutes to our viewing site that we had scoped out before.

The auroral display (seen from Southport Tasmania, the southern most town in Australia )was to seen to be believed. Yje reds, pinks, greens were visible to the naked eye as was the movement of beams. It was a stunning display and caused a bright reflection on the ocean from our various vantage points.

I will never forget that night!


The morning show

As we walked to our chosen spot, or rather half jogged as we were keen to start our photography, friend David Marriott remarked - there is a big fog. From my experience in Iceland I knew it wasn't the fog but the glow of the Aurora Australis on the southern horizon!

We imaged from about 4:00 am (my first shot was at 4:04 am) until it got too light to see the aurora at around 6:40am on 11 May 2024.

2629 - On of my first shots just after 4:00 am, Aurora Australis, Southport Tasmania

2634 - The aurora was expanding rapidly, here it is starting to cover the Southern Cross (upper right)

2653 - Beams and a blob!

2697 - Delicate beams appeared for a brief time

2750 - the rapidly changing auroral show!

2767 - Curtains of the Aurora Australis, Southport, Tasmania

2790 - the red intensifies in the bright auroral show

2810 - red blobs

2851- the Aurora Australis in all its glory!

2856 - The Scorpion roasting over a celestial fire (can you see the constellation of Scorpius in the upper right, dwarfed by this mighty aurora?)

2888 - The Aurora Australis takes on pink as the yet to be seen twilight touches the higher beams

2944 - purple but intense beams are hard to expose correctly even though the exposure was brief

6482 - Yellow ribbon

6692 - Insanity!

6647 - Beam me up Scotty!

6796 - Indescribable!

7140 - Awesome colours, Speechless!

7152 - Purple beams!!!!

3383 - The aurora still went on until it envitably was washed out by the dawn

3396 - Auroral sunrise

The evening show

We arrived at our selected spot just after sunset. At around 17:51 pm, against the building twilight, a purple beam could be made out. Then you could see the subtle green of the aurora against the twilight sky. The first few images tell the story.

3440 - This was taken at 17:56 pm on 11 May 2024, the trunk is lit up by the persisting daylight, the subtle pink and green colours can be seen

3446 - the colour of the Aurora intensifies

3450 - delicate beams can be seen and the sky alight with colour starting to take over the scene as it got darker

Auroral dunes

Just after the aurora started to be visible, the interesting phenomenon of auroral dunes appeared as shown by these new three shots. The dunes appeared to originate from the souther sky

3351 - Auroral dunes and the strange blue colour underneath them on the southern horizon

3352 - Another shot of the auroral dunes

3461 - Another image of the amazing auroral dunes

3516 - Aurora Australis behind a lovely gum, Southport, Tasmania, 11 May 2024

3561 - A giant pink beam cuts through almost due west through Canis Major

3755 - subtle colours behind the tree

4432 - Colours erupt over the tree

Corona of the Aurora Australis, 11 May 2024

Aurora Australis dancing behind the Gum tree, 11 May 2024

A stunning show of the corona beside the elegant eucalyptus tree, 11 May 2024

Corona of Aurora Australis, 11 May 2024, Southern Tasmania

3490 - Auroral dunes 2

Intense red during the display of the corona

Two delicate pink beams erupt from the south western sky filled with beautiful green auroral colours 11 May 2024

A delightful combination of pink and green auroral beams appeared behind the tree briefly on 11 May 2024

Corona of the Aurora Australis and gum tree, 11 May 2024, Southern Tasmania

A lovely little display at Freycinet, 6 May 2024

A nice walk to a secluded beach with great southerly views proved a productive night, helped by coffee to ward off the cold!

Aurora Australis and two Magellanic Clouds over the Hazards, Freycinet area, Tasmania

The Milky Way Core (the Emu) and Aurora Australis with the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds over the Hazards. Taken with 14 mm lens, with some slight distortion of the auroral beams seen but I still love it!

A two photo pano showing the small but vivid auroral display under the two Magellanic Clouds (to right) and the rising Milky Way core to the upper left

The Milky Way known to Australia's First People as "The Emu" rises in the left corner over the little township of Coles Bay and the mountain range known as the Hazards. The vestiges of a beautiful but bright show of the Aurora Australis is the yellow/reddish pink colour to the right of the Hazards overlooked by the Small Magellanic Cloud and Large Magellanic Clouds (right of image). This image is a panorama comprising 9 shots (3 panels of three shots taken with a Sigma 14 mm lens set to f2.8 for 10 seconds

The glow of the Aurora Australis backlights gum trees in a foggy paddock in rural Tasmania, 7 May 2024

Corunna Lake and Mystery Bay, Narooma, Eurobodalla Coast, South Coast, New South Wales 12 to 13 September 2023

By chance I was out at Corunna Lake and various sites imaging the setting Milky Way when I noticed colour appearing to the south. It was the Aurora Australis, and what turned out to be a magnificent stay because of a coronal mass ejection hitting directly and not a glancing blow as first thought.

Aurora Australis and setting Milky Way arch over Corunna Lake, 12 Sept 2023

Cape Tourville, Freycinet National Park Tasmania, 21/22 May 2023

On 21 May 2023, David Marriott and I imaged the night sky from Freycinet National Park near Coles Bay. We had driven there after doing some photography at Mt Field National Park to try and get some clear skies for astrophotography.

We noticed before we headed out that there was some minor activity in the solar winds reading which was reflected in a promising auroral oval projection. The Bz, a great indicator, was reading "south" and had been so for several hours which was good. We both didn't say it but we individually didn't think there would be any activity on the auroral front. In fact, I even remarked to Dave that it was a privilege to be there under such dark and unspoilt skies even if there was no aurora. The Emu was majestic in all its glory high in the sky when we arrived and set up our tripods and cameras at around 9:50 pm. I decided to image the Emu high in the sky and was delighted with how the raw shots appeared on the camera.

Due to our location, we were limited to 8 second exposures.

Shots from our chosen vantage point facing due south did not show any aurora. Periodically we checked our aurora apps to note that the auroral oval was expanding and that the Bz had got further negative which was good.

Because of the clear skies I started experimenting with images with really high ISOs like 12,500 and 16,000 to better bring out the foreground and also any air glow. David had also noticed there was some bioluminescence in the water. It was during my high ISO shots that I noticed what was unmistakably the aurora, albeit not particularly strong in my images. Within about 15 minutes David remarked that he could see white beams. I couldn't see them initially but then they were seen quite easily in the dark southern sky. The first shot was taken around this peak in activity of the beams at around 11:25 pm on 21 May 2023. I love the subtlety of the display. It was taken with a 24 mm lens at ISO 3200 at f2 for 8 seconds. All other shots were taken with similar setting on the 35 mm or 14 mm lens.

After about half an hour the beams subsided with the aurora getting stronger yellows and greens and I could see isolated patches of yellow forming over parts of the mountain range before us. Towards the end we could see the bottom of the auroral arc in our shots. The colours were amazing.

It's a night I will never forget and such a blessing after having invested so much time finding great sites for the aurora that had occurred the night before to find that we were clouded out after a beautiful sunny start to the day. It is the highlight so far of our nine day trip and we have another 5 nights to go!

I am so enjoying revisiting the state that had been my home in the late 80s and early 90s when I shot my first aurora on a film camera in March 1989.


Thebeautiful aurora viewed from the Cape Tourville lighthouse on 21 May 2023

Subtle beams at around 11:37 pm on 21 May 2023

A wide view of the ongoing aurora showing the southern sky region including the Magellanic Clouds using the 14 mm lens

Cape Tourville, Tasmania 22 May 2023 (pm)

On the night of 22 May 2023 we returned to the lighthouse at Cape Tourville and was treated to another beautiful display of the Aurora Australis.

Cooma area, 20 April 2018

Heightened solar activity indicated by escalating readings on the Canberra magnetometer and solar wind readings led to the hasty decision to try and capture photographs of the aurora just to the south of where I live. fortunately a friend had given me the handy tip that there were bushfires in the Adaminaby area. This later helped inform a last minute decision to move to another site which I thought would be smoke free as my first choice was blanked by smoke from the fires.

After about 9o minutes in the car, I arrived at my chosen site full in the knowledge it provided a clear view south, with no light pollution to tarnish the image of the aurora. I hastily set up the camera in the middle of the road and obtained the first image in the sequence below. My jaw nearly dropped to the ground, as I had never seen a display like it in mainland Australia.

Namadgi National Park, Australian Capital Territory, 5 August 2019

This series of shots were taken from a locality known as Legoland due to the massive granite tors found in the area. Sadly the area was ravaged by bushfires in January 2020 so access is not permitted until the area is deemed safe from damaged trees. The spot provides an elevated view south over the Orroral valley a significant site involved with the lunar landings. The site is also near Honeysuckle Creek near the former tracking station that was instrumental in picking up the first images taken from Apollo 11.

The scene was gently lit by a crescent moon and also brought out a bit of purple in the aurora. the two whitish clouds in the shots are the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds.