[ASC-media] Media Release

Sam.Lucia at ga.gov.au Sam.Lucia at ga.gov.au
Fri Oct 31 16:55:34 EST 2003

Geoscience Australia 

Ghostly skies on the horizon

For immediate release Friday 31 October 2003
Intense solar activity this week has sent the gaze of southern Australians to
the skies, in the hope of catching a glimpse of an auroral show. These
ghostly lights produce some of the most spectacular displays of nature.
Real-time measurements of the geomagnetic field available on the Geoscience
Australia web site can indicate the best times for aurora spotting.

In the past, auroras have been seen in southern areas of Australia, and as
far north as southern Queensland, but the conditions need to be right. Rapid
changes in the Earth's magnetic field indicate the onset of a magnetic storm
and that within hours there may be an aurora.
"In Canberra, people need to look to the south, you need cloud free skies and
a dark horizon as the aurora will appear quite low in the sky as a diffuse
red glow", says Geoscience Australia geophysicist, Andrew Lewis.

"The aurora may build up gradually, and may only last for 10 to 15 minutes,
and perhaps only occur once during the night.

During periods of intense solar activity, charged particles can interfere
with the earth's magnetic field, causing damage and disturbance to radio and
satellite communications, radar, global positioning system (GPS), spacecraft,
powerlines and pipelines. 

To monitor and help reduce the potential hazardous effects of magnetic
storms, Geoscience Australia maintains a national network of geomagnetic
observatories, which are part of a global network that records variations in
the earth's magnetic field. These are located within Australia at Alice
Springs, Canberra, Charters Towers, Gnangara, Kakadu and Learmonth. There are
also three Geoscience Australia observatories in the Antarctic region at
Mawson, Casey and Macquarie Island. 

During the recent magnetic activity over the last few days the most rapid
magnetic variations recorded by the GA observatory network have been at
Macquarie Island, where during a half hour period the compass swung through
13 degrees.

The data collected from these observatories is critical to monitor
geomagnetic storms. The information is also used for a number of other

"The public can access real-time information on the Earth's magnetic field on
the Geoscience Australia web site. The magnetic field is constantly changing,
but during a magnetic storm, it is highly erratic and there will be a good
chance of seeing an aurora in clear night skies at that time."

To view real-time data from the Canberra Geomagnetic Observatory on the
Geoscience Australia web site at:

For more information or to arrange an interview call the
Media Hotline 1800 882 035 (24 hours)

Samantha Lucia 

Science Communicator
Geoscience Australia
Ph: 61 2 6249 9438
Fax: 61 2 6249 9990
Email: sam.lucia at ga.gov.au
Website: www.ga.gov.au

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