Stunning Red Aurora Captured Near Melbourne, Australia

Feb 3, 2012 8:00am

Alex Cherney, a software developer and self-described hobbyist astronomer based near Melbourne, captured a series of stunning Aurora Australis over the Mornington peninsula in Australia.

“It was my first visual aurora,” he told ABCNews.com. “I was surprised myself when I saw it. I didn’t think it would be so bright.”

The time-lapse video he shot and posted online shows 24 frames per second and features two instances of bright red aurora, a sunrise, the Milky Way and millions upon millions of stars.

The small balls of light seen flying across the water near the horizon are boats, coming in and out of the harbor in the remote town of St. Leonards, he said.

A second instance of dimmer aurora occurs later in the video, which Cherney said he captured on Jan. 16. At the time, the phenomenon wasn’t visible to the naked eye.

Cherney, 37, said he used a Nikon d700 camera on a tripod, with an ultrawide 14-millimeter lens to capture images of the bright aurora every 30 seconds over the course of eight hours overnight from Jan 22 to 23.

Because it’s summer in Australia, Cherney said he clocked around 700 photo files that night, but during the winter, when the nights are longer, he can capture up to 1,500 images.

His passion for exploring the wonders of the night sky started when his daughter, now 8, was in preschool and was given an assignment on space exploration.

“She came back from school one day and asked me if I could help her find aliens,” Cherney said. “So I said, ‘That sounds like a cool idea,’ and we got out a pair of binoculars. But you couldn’t see anything with the binoculars, so we got our first telescope.”

Now Cherney said he owns a collapsible telescope that’s taller than his 6-foot-5 frame, and he and his daughter are members of the Mornington Peninsula Astronomical Society. He shares his photos and videos online, he said, to show others the beauty of what’s out there and because he believes there needs to be a stronger effort to limit light pollution and preserve star gazing from Earth.

“I’m quite passionate about the night sky,” Cherney said. “I want to show it to the world. We need to start thinking about the night sky. … With urban development, it may be gone in a few years time … and future generations might not be able to see it.”

You can see more of Cherney’s fascinating space photography on his website here: http://www.terrastro.com/

Aurora Australis, more commonly known as the southern lights, are incredible light displays that appear over the Antarctic but can shift north and be seen over Australia.  More familiar to us in the United States are Aurora Borealis, or northern lights, which appear over the Arctic but have been known to slide down as far south as Oregon.

Both types of auroras are caused by photons (light particles) interacting with other atoms in the Earth’s atmosphere, such as oxygen and hydrogen, which help give them their color. The photons are emitted from solar winds, which then hit the Earth’s magnetic field and condense at the poles.

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