Where and how to see the Aurora Australis in Melbourne and Victoria

A green Aurora Australis in the night sky


Posted May 01, 2024

With a bit of planning, you can see the spectacular Aurora Australis and Southern Lights even in skies above Melbourne.

Seeing the Aurora Borealis is a bucket-list item for many Australians, with Finland, Norway and Alaska among the top places to see the Northern Lights.  But that means saving up for a trip, travelling upwards of 15,000km on a long-haul flight, and bracing yourself for extreme cold, with autumn, winter, and spring being the best times to see the Northern Lights.

Luckily, there’s an alternative. The southern hemisphere has its own version of the Aurora Borealis called the Aurora Australis, and while it’s less famous than its northern twin, it’s just as magnificent to behold.  

Victoria is one of the best-placed locations to witness the Aurora Australis, with keen stargazers able to spot the Southern Lights even within Melbourne. Astronomers also predict that late 2024 and early 2025 will potentially be a peak period for auroras, because of the nature of the sun's cycle. 

What is an aurora?

Although auroras are only visible at night, they’re actually caused by a celestial body visible only during the day - the sun. 

“The aurorae are all about the sun, and what the sun is doing,” says Russell Cockman, a member of the Astronomical Society of Victoria and former Solar Section Director. 

Cockman explains that when you see an aurora, what you’re actually seeing is ‘solar wind’ - masses of charged particles (or ions) that are constantly emitted from the sun.  

“Basically, the Earth is constantly being bathed in the solar wind, and we don't even notice it.”

This solar wind can vary in intensity just like winds on Earth; often it’s a gentle breeze but occasionally it’s stronger, like a gale made up of countless charged particles.  

When these particles reach Earth, they’re funnelled towards the north and south poles by the planet’s magnetic field. Here, they can end up in Earth’s upper atmosphere, around 300-400km above sea level.

“The energy of these particles, when they hit the molecules and atoms in the Earth's upper atmosphere, can cause those molecules to become ‘excited’,” says Cockman. “They will then give off light of various colours, reds and greens and perhaps some blues and violets.” 

“On the ground, we see those displays of light as the aurorae.”

What’s an antipodean aurora? 

The Aurora Australis is the southern hemisphere’s answer to the famed Aurora Borealis, and it can be spotted throughout Victoria, but usually in the far south.

However, during periods of strong solar activity, it’s possible to see the Aurora Australis across southern Australia (including Victoria) and as far north as Canberra, Sydney and even southern Queensland.

In May 2024, thousands of Melburians and Victorians were treated to a dazzling display of stunning pink and green hues, which the Bureau of Meteorology attributed to the strongest geomagnetic storm in more than 20 years.

The reason it’s often harder to spot the Aurora Australis comes down to geography. “The Aurora Borealis is better known because there’s more landmass in the northern hemisphere in the latitudes where the aurora can be observed from,” Cockman says. 

“Whereas our southern hemisphere is mainly water.” 



A red and green aurora at Tooradin.

Aurora hunters have seen the Southern Lights in many parts of Victoria, including south east of Melbourne, in Tooradin, where this photo was taken in 2023. Photo: Russell Cockman 

How to spot the Aurora Australis in Melbourne and Victoria

It’s possible to spot the Aurora Australis by luck, but your chances are vastly improved with a little preparation.  

Best locations around Melbourne and Victoria  

The further south you are, the more likely you’ll glimpse the Aurora Australis. But it’s just as important to have minimal light pollution, as well as an unobscured view of the southern horizon.  

Within Melbourne, Cockman recommends Rickett’s Point in Beaumaris (“Probably the best site in Melbourne to have a look for the Aurora Australis”) because of its clear, south-facing view and lack of light pollution.  

Further afield in Victoria, he also notes Portsea, Queenscliff and Cape Schanck as good aurora-spotting options, as well as anywhere on the state’s southern coastline.  

Peak period for auroras relates to sun cycle

Much like the Earth has seasons, the sun also goes through a cycle of sorts. The difference is that the solar cycle takes around 11 years in total and measures the number of sunspots on the sun’s surface.  

The period that has the peak number of sunspots is called ‘solar maximum’ and features increased levels of ions being ejected out into space and towards the Earth – where they can create auroras.  

“We're heading towards the solar maximum around perhaps the end of 2024, early 2025,” says Cockman, meaning we’re potentially coming into a peak period for auroras.  

Auroras can be seen year-round, but they often increase around the annual spring and autumn equinoxes.  

“That is simply due to the fact that the Earth's magnetic field is better aligned with the solar wind during those times of the year,” Cockman says.  


A red and green aurora over Port Phillip Bay

If you think an aurora is occurring but can't quite see it, try taking a photo to see the colours better. Photo: Russell Cockman

Signs of an aurora and why it's worth taking a photo

If asked to picture an aurora, you might think of a starry night sky with undulating waves of green, red, pink, blue and purple.  

While that’s an accurate representation, auroras can also look a lot more subdued if there’s only a small amount of solar wind.  

“If it's a moderate display, you may expect to see a sort of a whitish band fairly low down to the south... and you might see some beams of light coming up from the horizon into the sky. If it’s a particularly good display you may start to see some colours.” 

If you think you’ve spotted an aurora but can’t quite see the colours, Cockman recommends taking a photograph. “The colours will come out very easily in a digital photo of the display, (with) better colours than what the eye can see.” 

You may need to enhance the hues and saturation in a photo-editing program such as Adobe Photoshop, to get a truly spectacular image.

Check the space weather forecast 

Solar wind is a type of ‘space weather’. Just like regular weather, you can look up the space weather forecast on the Australian Bureau of Meteorology to see how much solar activity is predicted, helping you determine if it’s a good night to go aurora hunting. 

You’ll also want to check the regular weather forecast, as it’s more difficult to see an aurora in heavily clouded skies.

Consider a stargazing road trip

If you're interested in travelling further afield for a spot of stargazing or for a better chance of seeing the Aurora Australis in the night sky, make sure you're prepared. Before you take off, ensure your car is safe by completing these important safety checks, and have a car safety kit on hand in case of an emergency.