I’ve always been a bit of a science nut. Astronomy in particular. Growing up in Melbourne Australia I knew I wasn’t close enough to the south pole to ever see the Aurora Australis. For it to be visible at our latitude was a rarity not worth chasing. And even if it were visible, the city lights to would drown out the view. I never had hope of seeing it.
Once when I was about 10 there was a news report of a strong aurora visible from dark skies around Melbourne. That evening after dinner (and after sunset) Dad took me a few K’s north, away from the local lights to see what we could see. Nothing.
I’ve never tried since. Even when I’d hear reports of high auroral activity, I wouldn’t bother.
This March several things clicked together. I saw a video posted somewhere of Aurora Australia footage taken from NSW (even closer to the equator than Melbourne, for those unfamiliar with Aussie geography!). I realised I had a camera and gear that could take the photos I wanted. I knew how to use the settings to take the photos I wanted. I could take a short drive to be even further away from the local light pollution and actually see an Aurora when solar activity allowed.
A couple of weeks ago we had such heightened solar activity. Aurora strength is measured on a Kp scale from 0 (weak) to 9 (strong). We were getting Kp’s of around 7-ish. So out I drive with my gear and set up beside the highway on a hill with good views to the south.
It’s still cloudy but I’m hoping there will be a break with a green/red glow exposed beyond. To kill time I begin taking snaps with varying exposure settings to get a feel of what might be ideal when the clouds finally part. If ever.
Still no break and I’m getting bored with the same old clouds. I point towards the road and try for some light trails of the cars going by. While reviewing some of those shots, I realised there was an eery, dim orange glow on the left hand edge of one of the shots. It was a one of the longer exposures for the light trails and the dark sky came out very bright. I couldn’t see the glow with the naked eye. I panned back to the south and took several more shots of the area.
Could it have been the aurora? There was only one large orange glowing area towards the south but I wasn’t convinced. It was the colour of arc-sodium street lamps but the sky was already glowing with the lights from distant towns. There would have been a number of those sodium lights around the place, especially at intersections, and I might have expected many patches of reflected orange. Or none.
It wasn’t the colour I expected. Because we wouldn’t be under the aurora we would see it from a distance and therefore more likely to see the upper red and purple sections more than the green. Orange — no match.
I would be surprised that the aurora would shine through those reasonably thick clouds, too.
I don’t know. I probably need to go out with an experienced Southern Aurora watcher from my own latitude and have them point out to me “there it is!”. Then I would know.