May 30, 2024

Australians should get a second chance to see the aurora australis on Sunday night, experts say, after a southern lights display on Saturday was so spectacular it left at least one astronomer in tears.

Social media users posted photos of brightly colored skies VictoriaTasmania, South Australia, and around the world.

A lot of New South Wales missed the spectacle due to heavy cloud and rain.

A Monash University associate professor of astronomy, Michael Brown, described Saturday’s display – bigger than anything seen in Australia this century – as “bloody awesome”.

“It was absolutely spectacular last night,” he said. “An ‘Oh, wow’ moment.”

“I looked at reactions from astronomers around the world and there was one – famous in the field – who was brought to tears.”

Brown watched the show from his home in Melbourne, then drove more than an hour to Cape Schanck on the Mornington Peninsula for a better view.

He said hundreds of other stargazers were there — many taking great photos on their smartphones.

The Bureau of Meteorology warned that the storm creating the beautiful auroras could threaten infrastructure and essential services, including power supply.

The geomagnetic storm that created the “incredible light show” was the strongest in more than 20 years, the BoM said.

Brown said he expects another performance Sunday night, as well as the chance for a repeat on Monday.

“There is a very good chance that there will be a good aurora – probably not as spectacular as last night,” he said.

“But auroras can be very fickle. Sometimes they can disappoint and sometimes they can surprise you in a very good way, like they did last night.”

He recommended that people look outside if they are somewhere without much cloud cover or light pollution.

“At worst you see nothing and at best you might see an amazing experience that you will remember for the rest of your life,” he said.

A BoM senior meteorologist, Christie Johnson, said cloud cover could clear along parts of the NSW coast. “There is some potential depending on exactly how the system moves,” she said.

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“The northern coastal area could be a few breaks in the cloud and that could be OK to watch, inland parts should be OK. Sydney is right on the edge of where we can see [it].”

The CoE warned that wet weather would continue for much of eastern NSW for the next few days, with flash flooding in some areas due to heavy rainfall and flood warnings issued for parts of the Hawkesbury and Nepean.

Sydney’s Warragamba Dam was overflowing after reaching capacity on Sunday morning. WaterNSW said the dam started spilling at 7.30am.

Wednesday and Thursday were there four coronal mass ejections from the sun, meaning highly charged plasma erupted and flowed into space.

When those charged particles, known as the solar wind, hit Earth’s magnetic field, they create the stunning visual displays known as auroras.

“The last time a G5 geomagnetic storm was observed was in 2003,” the BoM said. “The warning issued for this event informs the government and critical infrastructure operators so they can take action to mitigate potential impacts on infrastructure and essential services.”

It added: “When G5 geomagnetic conditions occur, bright auroras will be visible at unusually low latitudes, including dark sky locations near Sydney and Perth.”

The bigger the storm, the closer to the equator the lights appear.

The northern lights – aurora borealis – were visible across large parts of Europe, including in the United Kingdomon Saturday morning.

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