Chasing the light
Capturing the myriad colours of the Southern Lights.
Not quite as famous as their northern cousins, the Southern Lights or aurora australis are a celestial sight to behold.
6 November, 2020
Your position on planet Earth offers up even greater opportunities to witness extraordinary terrestrial events as they take place
The Audi Q range is so irresistibly advanced you'll often find yourself driving well into the night. After all, some technology is just impossible to put down. That's why we've curated a series of our favourite nocturnal adventures around the country in 'Drives After Dark' featuring after-dark experiences from breathtaking natural nightscapes and up-late eateries to weekender getaways and more.
Stare up into the heavens for long enough and in the right places and there is no end to what you will see in the night skies. Just as skies reveal even greater detail the further you go from the intruding lights of civilisation, so too the climate and your position on planet Earth offers up even greater opportunities to witness extraordinary terrestrial events as they take place.
One such event is the eery dancing glow of the Southern Lights or Aurora Australis. Not quite as well known or as bright as its northern cousin, the Aurora Borealis which can be seen within the Arctic Circle, our own aurora is no less captivating, and Tasmania offers one of the best vantage points for those hoping to witness this celestial light.
For landscape photographer Luke Tscharke, capturing the aurora in all its glory has become an ongoing quest, and stunning images of this incredible phenomena both from the southern and northern hemisphere abound in his impressive portfolio.
The surreal greenish light is quite unlike anything else you will ever see. The light comes from high energy protons from the solar wind spilling into our atmosphere. These charged solar particles emitted from the sun interact with oxygen and nitrogen gas in the earth’s atmosphere creating particles of light or photons. As this occurs over a large scale the visible field of light is viewed as an aurora.
Most typically this takes place where the magnetic field is weakest – at the poles – hence the fact that places like Tromso in Norway and southern Tasmania represent the perfect earth-bound locations to get the best view of the light.
The southern lights can occur at any time of year as they are more dependant on solar activity than seasonal shifts, but there is greater likelihood of seeing Aurora Australis in the winter months says Tscharke. In winter there are significantly more dark hours and there is a greater likelihood of aurorae around the equinoxes (late March and late September) as the earth’s axial tilt is at the best alignment to the sun to allow the charged solar particles to interact with the atmosphere.
The light comes from high energy protons from the solar wind spilling into our atmosphere
“My favourite spots are Goats Bluff on the South Arm Peninsula and the southern end of Bruny Island”
Because the Aurora Australis occurs around the south pole it makes sense that the further south you travel in Tasmania, the greater the chance of witnessing it and potentially the better the show will be.
“Generally, anywhere that faces south and has a relatively unobstructed view of the horizon is a great start,” says Luke. “You will also want somewhere away from light pollution, ideally a good 30 minutes out of towns or cities.”
It goes without saying that you will need a clear sky, and moonlight also tends to interfere with the best views.
“My favourite spots are Goats Bluff on the South Arm Peninsula and the southern end of Bruny Island,” says Luke.
The key for auroral activity is to have had recent solar activity. To keep up-to-date on this sort of solar activity, there are any number of Facebook and other online groups to follow that will let you know of impending activity that will breed the right conditions. There are also several apps that can give reasonably accurate forecasts of upcoming auroral activity, with Luke citing ‘Aurora Alerts’ and ‘Space Weather Live’ as two of the best.
The good news is that there is often several days’ notice of a possible aurora, but the downside is that it is notoriously difficult to predict the exact time the aurora will peak.
“This can lead to many failed aurora chases where nothing ends up eventuating. But when it does happen the thrill of the moment will get you hooked!”
Of course sometimes you can really strike it lucky, and one such occasion back in April 2018 really stands in the memory for Luke as the biggest aurora he’s ever seen in the southern hemisphere.
“I had only just got back home from a trip to Iceland and Norway where I had been chasing Aurora Borealis and had been getting used to seeing amazing aurora shows, much bigger than is usually seen down south,” he recalls.
“We had a night where a big show was forecast so we went on the search for the location to photograph and I remembered about an old portico near a highway that would make a good subject. We asked permission to photograph it and just as we got into place the most incredible aurora show started, with the colour being clear to the naked eye.”
The extraordinary image Luke captured that night is the one shown below, amongst others from previous trips and those Luke captured out hunting in the Audi Q3 Sportback specially for Audi Magazine.
One such occasion back in April 2018 really stands in the memory for Luke as the biggest aurora he’s ever seen in the southern hemisphere
The aurora can be hard to see with the naked eye, so a camera becomes essential equipment
Given that the waits can be very unpredictable, it’s important to dress for the conditions. The cloudless, winter nights of Tasmania are spectacular but can also be brutally cold, so warm comfortable clothing are a must, and perhaps also bring along a little sustenance to keep you going through the often long waits.
It’s also a great idea to bring a torch and perhaps even a head torch so that you can see in the dark and not have any accidents along the way. The latter will also allow you to keep your hands free to carry the all-important photographic gear needed to ‘capture the light’.
Even if you’re not looking to shoot professional quality images, the aurora can be hard to see with the naked eye, so a camera becomes essential equipment.
“This is because the light source of the aurora is generally quite faint, and the Rod cells (or photoreceptor cells) in our eyes that help us see at night don’t work well with colours. So we may see the aurora as a faint grey cloud on the horizon whereas a camera can see the full colour and capture the full majesty of the show,” says Luke.
Most cameras these days are capable of capturing the aurora, including some smart phones, but for the best images it’s no surprise that a camera with a larger sensor like a DSLR or mirrorless will do the best job. You’ll be wanting a sturdy tripod to support your camera as the exposure times are longer than you will be able to manage trying to hold the camera perfectly still. You’ll also want a lens that has an aperture (opening) that can go really wide (ideally f/2.8 or wider, and leave it set at the widest (lowest ‘f’ number) setting. This will allow much more light to come into the camera and be exposed on the camera’s sensor. Once you have the gear sorted, you’ll need to put the camera in manual mode, set it to a high ISO (generally ISO 3200 or 6400) and set the shutter speed around 10-20 seconds. Then you press the shutter button and cross your fingers that you capture something! If the conditions are right and with a little luck, you could come away with something that is literally out of this world.
To learn more about the the Audi Q3 Sportback or any of the other Audi Q family, visit the Audi Australia website
Then you press the shutter button and cross your fingers that you capture something!
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