The aurora borealis (aka, “the Northern Lights”) are one of the most spectacular natural displays in the world. People travel thousands of miles to see them for themselves. But what if you could recreate the Northern Lights right where you are?
Researchers at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia recently unveiled a device called Planeterrella that does just that. By combining all of the elements in the aurora borealis – including magnetic fields and charged particles – they’ve been able to bring this celestial display from the sky to the desktop. For more on their project, take a look at http://www.nasa.gov/larc/scientists-recreate-earth-s-northern-lights/#.Uih9YLx57sl
This reminds us that the process behind auroras can be found in many diverse environments across vastly different scales. The “Here, There & Everywhere” project has tackled this subject in our “When Atoms Collide“. This page can help you get a better understanding of just how a neon sign relates to an aurora and even to the remains of an exploded star.
But while we’re on the subject of aurora, did you know that we’ve also seen them on other planets in our Solar System? Back in 2007, we announced that Chandra teamed up with Hubble, as well as the New Horizons spacecraft on the way to Pluto, to take a look at aurora on this gas giant planet. And watch this video to hear a JPL scientist explain what the Cassini spacecraft saw when it turned its attention to Saturn’s aurora.
So there you have it: auroras abound. Whether it is here on Earth or on another planet elsewhere in our Solar System, they are a fascinating phenomenon that helps us better understand the Universe we live in.
-Megan Watzke, CXC