General

Southern Lights captured in WA

An Albany photographer has taken what is likely to be one of Western Australia’s few sightings of the Aurora Australis.

Internationally awarded landscape photographer Dougal Topping captured a photo of the Aurora Australis at Stony Hill, Albany on Tuesday May 14 at around 7pm.

The Aurora Australis and Stony Hill, Albany. Source: Dougal Topping Photography.

The heightened chance of aurora activity was expected to occur from Wednesday and into Thursday.

Bureau of Meteorology space expert Dr Sahra Bouya said the lights form when coronal mass ejections interact with the Earth’s magnetic field.

“They cause the particles to spiral to the north and south pole and when those particles interact with the gas molecules in the atmosphere they emit lights,” she said.

“We can see different lights depending on the intensity of the [solar] storm and where the interaction occurs in the atmosphere.

“The [coronal mass ejections] interact with the molecules in the atmosphere, so oxygen emits a greenish to yellow light, and dark red and blue come from nitrogen, and sometimes we have blending of the colours and you can see pink and purple lights and white lights.”

An Aurora Australis captured at Lake Leschenaultia, WA in 2016. Source: Emma Arangio.

Perth geologist and photographer Colin Legg said there were two eruptions on the sun that caused the lights.

“The first has already passed earth while the second was due last night, but appears to have missed,” he said.

“Aurora is very difficult to predict as all the parameters need to line up for the activity to occur, and some are fundamentally unpredictable.

“The two eruptions we just saw are unusual for this time in the [solar] cycle … when activity is very low.”

Dougal Topping said it was tricky to capture the photograph on Tuesday night because the moon was 77 per cent full.

“Because the moon is out and bright, it reflects the sunlight and washes out the colour, so unless it’s a very very strong [aurora] you won’t see it to the naked eye, you’ll see it on camera,” he said.

“It’s always difficult — you couldn’t really see it until I got my settings right and then it’s just a lot of trial and error.

“I came home with about 60 or 70 photos go through them systematically and see which ones work.”

BoM said the aurora will be best viewed from parts of Tasmania along the east coast although party cloudy conditions were currently forecast and from southern areas of Victoria, with best viewing conditions expected on Thursday night when it will be mostly clear.

Mr Legg noted Tasmania was better placed for viewing, being further south, but said the aurora would need to be strong to outshine the moonlight.

Mr Topping said WA probably won’t see the lights tonight because the moon is 93 per cent full and there’s high cloud cover, and it won’t be visible past the southern areas of WA.

“I think the news recently has gotten everyone into a blitz and frenzy expecting to see this amazing light show and it’s not exactly happening for them,” he said.

“It’s there, it all depends on time and what’s happening with the sun.”

He recommended somewhere high and away from clouds and light pollution for viewing.

Mr Legg said there tended to be a lot of hype around these possibilities, but the truth was no one really knew for sure.

“All we can do is wait and hope,” he said.