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aurora australis

[ aw-strey-lis ]
/ ɔˈstreɪ lɪs /
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noun Meteorology.

the aurora of the Southern Hemisphere.

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Also called southern lights.

Origin of aurora australis

1735–45; <New Latin: southern aurora; see austral1
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021

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What does aurora australis mean?

The aurora australis is the shimmering display of lights that sometimes appears in Earth’s Southern Hemisphere.

The phenomenon is also called the southern lights. An aurora is a natural light display in the sky that is caused by particles from the sun interacting with Earth’s magnetic field. The word australis is Latin for austral, which simply means “southern.” The aurora australis appears in many colors ranging from green and pink to red, yellow, and blue.

Auroras are not exclusive to Earth and occur on every planet in our solar system except Mercury. And the aurora australis is not the only aurora on Earth. The more commonly known aurora in the Northern Hemisphere is called aurora borealis or the northern lights (the word borealis is Latin for boreal, which simply means “northern”). Both the northern and southern versions can be called aurora polaris because they occur around Earth’s poles, but this term is not commonly used.

The aurora australis dazzles the many people who travel to see the natural light show, which is considered one of Earth’s most magical phenomena.

Why is aurora australis important?

If you happen to find yourself near the South Pole, you might get the chance to see a natural light display that puts any fireworks to shame. This light show is called the southern lights or aurora australis. The first records of the name aurora australis came around the mid-1700s. The term aurora borealis came earlier—it is thought to have been coined by Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei in the 1600s. The lights are named after Aurora, the Roman goddess of the dawn. The word australis means “southern.”

The aurora australis is a kind of aurora, a natural light display that occurs in the skies close to Earth’s north and south poles. The process that results in an aurora starts at the sun. Because it is both very hot and very magnetic, the sun frequently releases charged particles (such as protons and electrons) into space that zip toward the planets, including Earth. Earth is surrounded by an invisible magnetic field that protects it (and us) from this solar wind by bouncing it back into space. However, the magnetic field is weakest at Earth’s north and south poles, and some solar particles manage to enter Earth’s atmosphere close to these areas and collide with Earth’s gas particles (oxygen, nitrogen, etc). These collisions emit light that the human eye can see and this, finally, results in an aurora. The aurora australis is the southern aurora, and the northern aurora is called the aurora borealis (borealis is Latin for “northern”).

While the aurora australis technically appears throughout the year, the human eye isn’t always able to see it. The visibility of the aurora australis depends on multiple factors such as your location, the weather, and the time of the year. Organizations such as NASA and NOAA that have studied the aurora australis provide information for “aurora hunters”—people seeking to observe the lights. The aurora australis can be seen in places like Antarctica, Australia, New Zealand, and the region of Argentina and Chile known as Patagonia.

Did you know ... ?

Due to factors like solar wind, the aurora australis doesn’t always appear in the same way as the aurora borealis.

What are real-life examples of aurora australis?

The aurora australis is a spectacular display that can appear in many different colors. Some people travel just to see it.

Getty. Aurora australis as seen from New Zealand.

Quiz yourself!

In which hemisphere does the aurora australis appear? 

A. Southern
B. Northern
C. Eastern
D. Western

British Dictionary definitions for aurora australis

aurora australis
/ (ɒˈstreɪlɪs) /

noun

(sometimes capital) the aurora seen around the South PoleAlso called: southern lights
New Latin: southern aurora
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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