Chasing the Aurora Australis in the Canberra & Snowy Mountains
Apart from the moon phase and the all important question of weather, my decisions to go and chase the Aurora Australis from my home in the southern outskirts of Canberra are heavily data driven. I subscribe to alerts from the helpful website Spaceweather.com. When I receive an alert, I then monitor the Canberra magnetometer from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology website which indicates disturbance to our local magnetic field by solar activity. I look for ascending readings. In addition, I monitor closely the solar gauges from the DSCOVR and ACE space probes available on Spaceweather.com. I look for heightened solar wind speeds and other parameters in the solar wind such as its magnetic direction and density. Certain solar features on the Sun such as coronal holes may persist several months an I have successfully photographed auroral displays by anticipating the next rotation of the feature by adding 27 days.
I cover the principles of aurora forecasting in my Introduction to Night Sky Photography and Aurora forecasting course and provide detailed notes on my approach.
Now is the time to learn about aurora forecasting as solar activity picks up after solar minimum!
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.
Dodging the fog - Bredbo area 12 May 2021
On 12 May 2021, alarm wind readings surged in the late afternoon, including density levels at around 50 protons per second. The Bz readings were close to minus 20. On that information alone it was possible that the aurora would be visible at least in camera. The only question was would this activity hold and could we find clear skies with some fog persistently blowing into the Canberra area from the north. Fried David Marriott and I drove down past Williamsdale and we very nearly turned around but for some reason we decided to press on. We reached clear skies just north of Bredbo and hastily set up our cameras. By this time fabulous shots were rolling in from further south in southern Victoria and Tasmania but apart from some fabulous looking air glow, there was no aurora (see the first photo). Within a couple of minutes of the first photo, suddenly bright red flames could be seen near the horizon under the two Magellanic Clouds (photo 2). From these I knew the aurora had started to be visible. This shot highlights the difference between airglow visually with the airglow being the more diffuse orange glow seen in the sky higher up and with the aurora the much more definite strong red colour closer to the horizon and constantly changing shape. The later shots how the extent of the aurora including some beams shortly after and taken over the next 90 minutes or so. We had to constantly move because the fog kept invading our space necessitating moving further away from the Bredbo River and to higher ground along the Jerangle Road.
A selection of other shots of the Aurora Australis
This contains some selected shots of the Aurora Australis taken from near my home.