Auroras occur when the Sun produces a coronal mass ejection, which is a massive burst of solar wind and electrically-charged particles into space. When these particles enter the Earth’s atmosphere near its two magnetic poles, and collide with gases like oxygen and nitrogen, those gases emit colorful light. Most people know about the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis), but residents in the Southern Hemisphere also are treated to impressive light shows in the form of the nearly-identical Southern Lights (Aurora Australis).
When the solar winds blow:
- The spectacular displays of the Southern Lights can best be seen from the southernmost areas of Tasmania and New Zealand, as well as Antarctica.
- “Auroras are more frequent and brighter during the intense phase of the solar cycle when coronal mass ejections increase the intensity of the solar wind,” explains Margaret Sonnemann, author of The Aurora Chaser’s Handbook.
- The best time to view the Southern Lights is during the fall and winter months in the Southern Hemisphere (March through September).