The name “northern lights” that has been made synonymous with aurora seems very deceiving. When thinking about best places to view them, you automatically consider locations closest to the North Pole. Nobody talks about the “southern lights.”
People close to me know that because of my daughter’s school’s location, I drive 60 miles per day. While during a portion of that my daughter is in the car and we sing “Disney princess songs” at the top of our lungs, my adult time is taken up by listening to podcasts. One of my regular favorites is Stuff You Should Know by HowStuffWorks.com with Josh and Chuck. They cover all sorts of random subjects and about a month ago they talked about aurora. From a young age, I was fascinated by the northern lights and I hope when I see them, they are as mesmerizing as I imagine. Now did you know that you can see Aurora not only in Greenland, Finland, Alaska, etc. but also from Melbourne, Australia? Yeah, me neither.
To understand why you can view aurora at both the Arctic and Antarctic points, you have to know a little about their formation. Electrically charged fragments released from the sun hit Earth’s magnetic field and due to its behavior, the particles are channeled toward a ring around each pole. There, they ionize colliding with various gases mainly oxygen and nitrogen to emit the different-colored lights based on altitude and the current atmospheric composition.
The big question stands – why do we call aurora the northern lights? Both happen just as often, are shaped the same and are just as colorful. Josh and Chuck have a theory and I think it’s as good as any – population density. More people live in areas where the northern lights can be seen and very few close to the visible southern lights. Tasmania’s population is barely more than 500,000; compare that to only Sweden’s more than 9 million people.
Knowing this, I have one more reason to visit Australia. And for any of you other aurora enthusiasts out there interested in touring the Land Down Under, here is a handy Aurora Australis forecaster: