The Southern Lights: An Electric Adventure That Should Be on Your Bucket List

Sebastian Opazo | | BrainsBrains
Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, Antarctica
Sunsets in Ushuaia are like an opening act for the Aurora Australis, photo by Sandra Kreuzinger. Credit: Gettyimages

The Southern Lights are an electric adventure that you won’t regret waiting to see. The electromagnetic phenomenon is frankly fascinating, but it is also elusive and unpredictable by nature. Auroras Australis is an experience that you will definitely want to add to your bucket list.

Viewing the Northern lights is considered by many to be one of the most impressive travel experiences, but admiring the Southern Lights is notoriously more difficult. The lack of land from which to view the skies and the versatility of the nature of the aurora itself requires a lot of patience and persistence.

These light shows are provoked by energy from the sun and fueled by electrically charged particles trapped in the Earth’s magnetic fields. Auroras Australis are natural light displays in the Earth’s sky predominantly seen in the high-latitude regions. They can appear as long, narrow arcs of light, often extending east to west from horizon to horizon. At other times they stretch across the night sky in bands that kink, fold, and swirl, or even ruffle like curtains. They can spread out in multicolored rays, like vertical shafts of light that stretch far up into space. And sometimes they engulf the sky in a thin cloud or veil.

Southern Lights, Aurora Australis, New Zealand, Australia, Antarctica
Aurora Australis seen over Lake Dunstan, New Zealand, photo by Jennifer Nalewicki. Credit: Smithsonianmag

In the Southern Hemisphere, the auroral oval hovers mostly over the oceans circling Antarctica, but it can occasionally reach the far edges of Australia, New Zeland, Argentina, and Chile. Auroras are easier to see in the wintertime because it is dark for long periods of the day. Clear winter nights tend to be better for observing the sky due to less haze and water vapor in the air.

New Zealand and Australia are the east ambassadors of the Southern Lights. Light pollution is close to zero in New Zealand’s Lake Tekapo area, and the summit of Mount John is possibly the best place to view the sky on a clear, dark night. However, no place in NZ records more sightings of the Southern Lights than Queenstown. Several times throughout the year, the city is awash with the brilliance of the bright lights in the sky caused by Aurora Australis.

Tasmania is the Australian state from which the Aurora Australis is most commonly seen, as it is closest to the normal location of the auroral oval. Tasmania is pretty much the Stewart Island of Australia and it has awesome places to see the Auroras Australis. But one spot in particular that those in the know frequent is Mount Wellington, a mountain located in the backyard of Tasmania’s capital city of Hobart. The higher up you ascend the 4,100-foot peak, the less likely your view will get obstructed, making it the perfect front-row seat for nature’s big event.

Southern Lights, Aurora Australis, Argentina, Chile, Antarctica
The Argentine National Meteorological at the Belgrano II Antarctic base. Credit: Biobiochile

Argentina and Chile are the west points you want to visit for this colorful adventure. Seeing the Southern Lights from anywhere in the South American Patagonia is a pretty rare occurrence, but it is certainly possible and can be done.

Argentina has a lot to offer in you want to live the electric dreams. Ushuaia is known as the “End of the World” and it’s the most urban place you can base yourself trying to see the Southern Lights in South America. The Falkland Isles also offers the remoteness that will provide optimal auroras performances in the company of thousands of penguins and albatross by your side. Finally, South Georgia Island & South Sandwich Island far out in the east part of the Atlantic are known for having vibrant and vigorous displays but it’s not easy to get to the island in Aurora season.

Southern Lights, Aurora Australis, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, Antarctica
Aurora australis dancing over an LED illuminated igloo in Antarctica, photo by NOAA. Credit: Unsplash

We are not going to forget the peak point, Antarctica! Being the most southerly chunk of landmass on the planet, Antarctica is the quintessential spot for viewing the Aurora Australis in all its brilliant glory. With virtually no light pollution, the White Continent is perhaps the best place on the planet to catch the Southern Lights. The challenge is just getting there. Because of the inhospitable winter climate, only research vessels venture this far south.

Theoretically speaking the equinox should be the best time for viewing the Southern Lights, but this isn’t always the case. Since the Aurora is based on sunspots and massive bursts of solar winds, scientific predictions can be unreliable. However, the best displays tend to occur in a few hours before midnight.

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