The aurora australis, also known as the southern lights, is mesmerising

We’ve always been dazzled by the northern lights and the southern lights.

These celestial spectacles are also known as the aurora borealis and the aurora australis.

To the poetic mind, they speak of transcendence, enchantment, magic, great beauty, dancing light and mesmeric colour – offering a glimpse of the divine.

To the scientific mind, auroras are light emitted when the upper atmosphere is hit by charged particles – mainly electrons from the solar wind.

These particles travel through space at incredible speed, before reaching the Earth’s magnetic field, where they can put on a captivating spectacle for humans.

That is, for humans lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.

Antarctica is a good place to see the southern lights.

But you don’t have to go that far.

They can also be seen in Australia. Tasmania, the southern coast of Victoria and Adelaide can be pretty good places to see an aurora. But you have to be lucky. It can be unpredictable.

Plus, clouds can get in the way.

Surprisingly, some auroras have been seen as far north as Queensland.

Which explains why a bloke told Topics that he had seen the aurora australis from the Hunter about 15 years ago.

He lives in a mountainous area, near Wollombi. 

“It was one of those shimmering walls of yellow, green, orange and red,” he said.

He loved the experience so much, he keeps an eye on websites that show when the next aurora is expected.

Earlier this week, an aurora was expected.

He set up his camera on a tripod, ready and waiting.

But the aurora didn’t reach this far north.

“Better luck next time,” he said.

If you’ve ever seen the aurora australis or aurora borealis, tell us about your experience at topics@theherald.com.au.

Check out aurora-service.net.

Spaced Out

Speaking of the heavens, Australian astronomer Dave Reneke had this to say about the expanding universe in a recent newsletter.

The universe has loads of dark energy, but astronomers have no clue what it is.

The universe has loads of dark energy, but astronomers have no clue what it is.

“Something is pushing the universe apart faster and faster and astronomers are clueless as to what’s causing it,” Dave wrote.

“This mysterious force has been given the equally mysterious name of ‘dark energy’.

“Astronomers can see its effects by its tug on galaxies.”

This so-called dark energy, also known as dark matter, makes up 74 percent of the universe, he said.

“It’s the biggest mystery of them all, ” said Dave, who writes for Australasian Science magazine.

“Strange as it may sound, most of the universe is made up of stuff we can’t see. Dark energy is really weird stuff, best thought of as an elastic, repulsive gravity.”

Now that’s food for thought.