Greg Nicholl captures Aurora Australis from Sydney

Greg Nicholl Aurora at La Perouse 23Jun2015
Aurora Australis #1 seen from Sydney early on June 23, 2015. Photographed by Greg Nicholl with a Canon 5D MkII. Photo and copyright Greg Nicholl ©, all rights reserved.

Greg Nicholl was fine tuning equipment on his telescope near La Perouse, in the south of Sydney, early this morning, June 23 2015, when he noticed a subtle pink glow on the southern horizon. Greg takes up the story…

This lead to me taking a few quick photos, predominantly in an effort to confirm what I thought I was seeing. My initial thoughts were that it could be an aurora, but knowing how rare it is to see one from as far north as Sydney I dismissed that idea fairly quickly, much to my regret now. Had I known, or at least trusted my gut feeling I would have taken more photos. Right place, right time… Just didn’t fully realise it!

Sightings of this aurora event were reported from elsewhere in Sydney and also from Tasmania and Victoria. As Greg says it is very rare to see an aurora as far north of the polar regions as Sydney (at a latitude of 34 degrees south) – to see beams and movement is a rare privilege indeed.

Greg Nicholl Aurora at La Perouse 23JUN2015
Aurora Australis #2, Sydney June 23, 2015. The Large Magellanic Cloud is also visible at upper middle. Photo and copyright Greg Nicholl ©, all rights reserved.

This aurora was caused by material from the Sun, released in a ‘full-halo’ coronal mass ejection (CME) on June 21, impacting the Earth’s magnetic field. The particles, mostly electrons, slam into our upper atmosphere causing it to glow in a ghostly red shimmering lightshow. Green colours were apparent in some images from further south. Aurora are completely safe to look at and they have no effect on the human body.

This geomagnetic storm was labelled “severe” and probably blacked out shortwave radio communication in the polar regions and may have affected the accuracy of GPS systems. Worse geomagnetic storms, like the Carrington event of 1859, are possible though extremely rare and could potentially have disastrous effects on our modern electronic lifestyle.

Greg’s photos were taken between 05:54 & 05:58 on the morning of Tuesday 23rd June 2015 using a Canon 5D Mk II with a 24 mm lens at f/2.8. Each photo was an 8 second exposure at ISO3200.

This storm has subsided slightly, but not fully. Keep your eyes on the southern horizon for the next couple of nights, particularly if you are in far southern Australia. You may see the Aurora Australis flare up again.


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