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Australian Indigenous Astronomy

Fire in the sky: The southern lights in Indigenous oral traditions

15 May 2015, 11:50 UTC
Fire in the sky: The southern lights in Indigenous oral traditions
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Aurora Australis as seen from Victoria. Alex Cherney, Terrastro Gallery, Author providedParts of Australia have been privileged to see dazzling lights in the night sky as the Aurora Australis – known as the southern lights – puts on a show this year.A recent surge in solar activity caused spectacular auroral displays across the world. While common over the polar regions, aurorae are rare over Australia and are typically restricted to far southern regions, such as Tasmania and Victoria.But recently, aurorae have been visible over the whole southern half of Australia, seen as far north as Uluru and Brisbane.Different culturesIt’s a phenomenon that has existed since the Earth’s formation and has been witnessed by cultures around the world. These cultures developed their own explanation for the lights in the sky – many of which are strikingly similar.From a scientific point of view, aurora form when charged particles of solar wind are channelled to the polar regions by Earth’s magnetic field. These particles ionize oxygen and nitrogen molecules in the upper atmosphere, creating light.Auroral displays can show various colours, from white, to yellow, red, green, and blue. They can appear as a nebulous glowing arcs or curtains waving across the sky.Aurorae are also reported to make strange ...

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