Local photographers in Australia sacrificed a few hours of sleep over the weekend just to be able to capture the appearance of southern lights across the evening sky, and based on the stunning images they produced, the sacrifice seemed all worth it.
The southern lights, also known as aurora australis, are the southern counterpart of the atmospheric phenomenon called aurora borealis. These bright and colorful lights in the sky occur when charged electrons from solar wind come into contact with magnetic and electrical fields in the Earth's magnetosphere.
Lachlan Manley, one of the photographers who were able to take snapshots of the southern lights, waited for the natural event in the town of Queenscliff in Victoria.
His first photograph of the aurora was taken near the town's ferry terminal on Sunday evening while his second one was taken Point Lonsdale lighthouse the following Monday morning.
He made use of a high sensitivity (ISO) setting on his SLR camera and exposed each snapshot for as long as 25 seconds in order to get as much light as he could for the photographs.
"I just love night photography," Manley said.
Sydney-native David Magro also captured vivid images of the aurora australis across the skies over New South Wales. He said that he has been chasing after the colorful lights for a few years now.
"I was by myself in the pitch black and I zoomed in, and [then] jumped up into the air and [started] talking to myself," Magro said.
"I was over the moon, I couldn't believe this was happening."
The color of these lights depends on the atoms of oxygen or nitrogen the charged particles interact with as well as the altitude at which the meeting of the two forces occur.
The auroras become green when charged particles come into contact with oxygen atoms at an altitude of about 150 miles but they turn red when they encounter the same type of atoms at altitudes beyond 150 miles.
Meanwhile, auroras are often blue in color when the particles meet with atoms of nitrogen at altitudes of about 60 miles. The lights turn purple or violet when the particles bump into nitrogen atoms at altitudes beyond 60 miles.
According to Perry Vlahos, vice-president of Victoria's Astronomical Society, in order to take a clear image of the aurora australis, photographers have to expose each shot for about 20 to 30 seconds so their cameras can collect enough photons that would make the lights visible.
Vlahos explained that people will not be able to see aurora by merely staring at them with the naked eye.
Since human eyes are not sensitive to the colors the southern lights display, he said that there is a higher chance the only thing people would be able to see are greyish lights or at least minor hints of color.
Vlahos added that with the moon over Australia becoming increasingly brighter during Christmas combined with the unpredictability of solar activity, it is likely that people looking forward to capture more photos of the aurora would find it more difficult to accomplish in the coming days.
Manley, who is a member of the group Aurora Hunters Victoria, said that solar storm he was able to witness on Sunday evening was just one of five decent ones that occurred this year. He uses data from NASA websites to find out space weather conditions before he heads out to take photographs.
"I'm a carer for my wife, who has got MS, and I've got a two-year-old, so they go to bed and I get some free time to get out. It's just relaxation, and it looks magical."
— ✧ HEAVENLYBOT ✧ (@Heavenlybot) December 21, 2015
Incredible photos of #auroraaustralis over Tasmania. This one by @lifecatchme https://t.co/2377bPSnfI pic.twitter.com/TWorZGsmuL — Jon Donnison (@jondonnisonbbc) December 21, 2015
— Chip Rolley (@ChipRolley) December 21, 2015