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How Far North Can You See The Southern Lights From?

Updated on June 12, 2012

If you are wondering just how far North you can view the Southern Lights or Aurora Australis from then this page will tell you. We will look at the conditions needed for the best Auroras and just how far North you can sometimes see the Southern Lights from. Then we will tell you a few of the best places to spot a spectacular Southern Lights show from.

The Southern Lights or Aurora Australis at is it also known is the geomagnetic phenomenon that can sometimes light up the skies if the far Southern hemisphere. This is a very similar display to the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights which takes place in the Northern hemisphere. The main difference between the two is that the southern one is far harder to spot due to the fact that there is very little land mass that reaches far enough south. So if you do want to get a glimpse of the most spectacular light show on earth, how far south do you have to be? Or more to the point, how far North does the Aurora reach?

The Southern Lights

Understanding The Southern Lights

So first of all it is important to understand how the Southern Lights actually work. This makes capturing a glimpse of them all the more possible. So the Aurora is sometimes compared to the weather. It will follow certain patterns and sometimes behave differently to other times. The Aurora is caused by solar particles entering the earth’s atmosphere. The strength of the lights will depend on how many of these particles are going to collide with the atmosphere. This is something that can be forecasted a few days in advance. There are places where you can get an Aurora forecast from.

The lights also run on a longer cycle. This is though to be around every thirteen years. So some years there will be lots of solar activity leading to really magical displays, whereas other years the lights can be very quiet and they are often not visible at all. The years 2012 and 2013 are very good years for activity, we saw some amazing displays in 2012 and 2013 looks like giving us much of the same. There were several large solar storms in 2012 which gave us very high activity levels and made viewing possible from quite a long way north.

Both the Northern Lights and the Southern Lights are measured on a scale. This runs from 0kp right up to 9kp which is the maximum strength. A forecast reaching up to nine is an extremely rare event which may only happen once in a lifetime. However in 2012 we had a few nights where the Aurora almost reached an 8kp level which is very high and did make for some impressive displays. When there is a large solar storm you usually find a few days later the activity level will start to increase.

Aurora Forecast 5KP

Forecast of 7KP

Southern Lights 9KP

How Far North Can They Be Seen?

So just how far north can you see the Southern Lights from? Well obviously this depends on the strength of the Aurora Australis. In a year where there are high levels of activity you can often see the lights from New Zealand, South Australia and Southern America. However it is much harder to catch a glimpse of the Southern Lights than it is their Northern counterparts.

So how strong an Aurora do you need in order to see something. To the right you can see three maps indicating where an Aurora will reach, the shaded area is where the Aurora will be clearly visible from. Even if you are just outside those lines, you may see something on the horizon. So if you are on South Island in New Zealand if the kp strength reaches 5 then you have a good chance of spotting something on the horizon. If you are expecting a massive overhead display though you need a much stronger level of activity. If the level reaches up to 6 then you should be able to see something from Tasmania, maybe even from Hobart if you get away from the light pollution.

When there has been a solar storm and the kp level reaches around the 7 mark, then you should be able to see something from the tip of Australia. Maybe if you get away from all the light pollution you may even see something from the Melbourne area, but for this to be the case conditions really need to be perfect. If there is a level 7 event then on in the south of New Zealand you may even get to see the lights dancing overhead.

On the rare occasion that the kp index reaches 8, something that maybe happens once every few years, then you can see the Southern Lights from quite a few places. As far north as Perth in Australia you may be able to see something on the horizon. On the tip of South America you should catch a glimpse and even on the very bottom end of South Africa you may be able to see something.

What about in the extreme case of a level 9kp index. As we mentioned earlier this is something that almost never happens, but it is a possibility. It has happened before and will probably happen again. So how far North can you see them from if this does become a reality? Well if this did happen you would be able to see the lights from cities such as Cape Town, Buenos Aires and Perth. You would even be able to see something on the horizon as far north as Madagascar. Places like New Zealand and Tasmania would get a full on overhead display. If this did actually happen though it would make global news as it is such a rare event.

Where Are You Likely To See The Aurora Australis?

So realistically if you are hoping to catch a glimpse of this light show then you stand a much better chance the further south you head. If you sit in Perth, Australia waiting to see something you might be there one hundred years before you even see a glow. So for a more regular solar event you need to be looking at heading to South Island on New Zealand over the wintertime. Displays here happen every now and again and there is often something visible on the horizon.

Another thing you need to consider are the conditions. Obviously you need clear skies for the best viewing and also long nights of darkness. So summer time is not when you are going to see something. Another issue can be moonlight, if there is a full moon this decrease the chances of a good viewing due to the strong moonlight. Your best chance of seeing the Southern Lights is to get on a cruse ship and head as far south as possible.

The Southern Aurora is something that very few people are privileged to witness. For many this is a once in a lifetime event that requires the right conditions and some real luck. If there is a really large solar storm though you can sometimes see the Southern Lights from quite a long way North.


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