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Astrophotography in Southern Tasmania: Auroras, Milky Way & Bioluminescence

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Tasmania is blessed with some of the clearest skies in the country thanks to its little light pollution. The nights really put on a show during the winter season when longer night means more time to spend marvelling at the vast night’s sky. 

Aurora Australis: The Southern Lights

Nature is pretty spectacular and those that have seen the Southern Lights can attest. Lighting up the night in greens, pinks and purples, the Aurora Australis is a truly magical sight. Due to Tasmania’s southerly location, these impressive lights can be visible when all the right ingredients align with the key ingredient being the sun. Auroras, northern or southern, occur when the sun releases a massive burst of solar wind and magnetic fields into space, also known as CME (coronal mass ejections). These solar winds carry particles that are drawn toward the northern and southern poles, interacting with our magnetic field to produce the colourful light display. 

The other ingredients you need for an Aurora display: Clear night skies, away from any light pollution from city lights, a southerly facing aspect and a digital camera. 

How to see an aurora

While you may see pictures of vibrant Auroras dancing across the sky, a majority of the time we are unable to see it with the naked eye, that’s where the digital camera comes in. To the naked eye, you may see what appears to be a light white glow or mist in the sky, it’s only when you adjust the camera settings that you are able to witness the range of colours. 

Be sure to be facing south for the best vantage point and away from any light pollution (such as city lights). 

While Auroras can appear at any time of day and any time of year, winter is the best chance to see them thanks to the longer nights. 

The Milky Way

The beautiful Milky Way is particularly incredible during the wintertime in Tasmania when the galactic core is at its most visible. 

The best time to view the milky way in the southern hemisphere is between February and October. Not only are the nights a little longer during this time but the galactic core of the Milky Way rises over the east just after sunset, allowing for some amazing shots. Towards August and September, the core has shifted further to the west but offers are large arc across the sky. During the summer months of Tasmania, the galactic core is not visible as it is blocked by the sun (i.e. it is above the horizon during daylight hours).

There are lots of great apps you can use to check where the milky way will be located in the sky – Photopills and Night Sky are great options.

As with Auroras, when capturing the Milky Way, you want nice clear, dark skies. By venturing out of the city you will find less light pollution from the city lights. We also recommend checking the moon phases as even a half-moon can wash out the night sky, aim for a new moon for the best Milky Way results. 

Bioluminescence: Sea Sparkle

There’s nothing quite like seeing the sea sparkle in bright green or blue and if you haven’t seen it, add it to the bucket list. The phenomenon is called bioluminescence and it is all thanks to a natural chemical process that allows living things to produce light. We usually see it in the form of the algae bloom of plankton which, when disturbed by a wave or splash, glows in the water. 

Bioluminescence appears at random times but there is a local Facebook group you can follow to see if there is some sea sparkle near you. A good indicator of some bioluminescence is a pink cloudy algae spotted in calm water. 

Photography tips

  • Unfortunately, the old iPhone won’t cut it to capture the Southern Lights or Milky Way so a DSLR or mirrorless camera is your best bet
  • Try and find a location that doesn’t have any obstacles, a south-facing bay is always a photography hot spot for capturing Auroras
  • Use a fast lens with an aperture of around f2.8 to allow plenty of light in
  • Set your shutter speed to around 5 – 15 seconds 
  • Bump up your ISO. This will depend on your camera abilities but anything around 3200 is usually a good start
  • Make sure you use a tripod and a trigger to avoid that camera shake
  • Shift to manual focus and set to infinity
  • Make sure you have a warm coat, a beanie and some gloves – it can get cold out there!
  • Head out with a buddy. It’s always more fun when you can share the excitement with someone
  • Follow the Aurora Australis Tasmania Alert Now and Aurora Australis Tasmania Facebook pages for updates on conditions and aurora activity.

Astrophotography Locations

  • South Arm Peninsula: Offering some excellent southernly vistas, South Arm is a great place for some Aurora watching. The Goat Bluff lookout at Clifton Beach is particularly impressive on a clear night.
  • Dodges Ferry: Located 40 minutes from Hobart, Dodges Ferry’s Park Beach faces south and offers incredible views of Auroras when they appear. The Carlton Park Surf Lifesaving Club is also a good spot to set up the tripod with a carpark located close by.
  • Cockle Creek: The best opportunity to see an aurora is as far south as you can get and in Tasmania, that is Cockle Creek. Located 2 hours south of Hobart, Cockle Creek can be found at the end of the road. There is a campground available at Cockle Creek, alternatively, accommodation can be found at Dover.
  • Franklin: the Huon Valley is a great place for some star gazing and Aurora watching thanks to its minimal light pollution. Franklin is a lovely quiet spot to enjoy the views with the Franklin Foreshore Park an accessible spot to set up for the night.
  • Taroona: Located just 15-minutes from Hobart’s CBD, Taroona is a great spot for some astrophotography. As it is still quite close to the city, Taroona is best on a cloudless night when there is no risk of capturing the reflecting light of the city on the clouds. Taroona Beach or Hinsby Beach is a good spot to get up the gear.
  • kunanyi/Mount Wellington – With expansive views of the south and across the city, kunanyi offers some pretty impressive scenes. Of course, we are talking about Mount Wellington here so dress sensibly, it gets very cold up there. It is also best to make sure you check the road status as Pinnacle road can be closed due to weather.
  • Cape Bruny Lighthouse: Located in the far south of Bruny Island, the Cape Bruny Lighthouse is another special spot for some astrophotography. With a little bit of planning, you might even get the chance to align the Milky Way with the lighthouse.
  • Tessellated Pavement: The Tessellated Pavement looks pretty specie at the best of times but add an Aurora and a milky Way into the mix and you have a bucket list photo! While it is a great spot for some astrophotography, do take care as the rocks can be slippery and hard to spot in the dark (flashlight a very good investment).

 


We love it when you share your adventures with us! Share your snaps by tagging @hobartandbeyond and using #HobartandBeyond on Instagram and Facebook – we’ll share our favourite pics on social media and in the blog.


Header Image: Instagram – Kev Morse

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