Classroom activities - study the sun-wind and northern lights phenomenon
Get some knowledge about the sun-wind and magnetic storms, the Earth’s magnetic field and the formation of the northern lights through tasks and activities. Good luck!
A) The Knowledge programme
Get information about the northern lights through the Knowledge programme “The Northern Lights”
Get familiar with the programme and answer the questions a) – e) on the page where the activity has been described.
B) The magnetic field of the Earth and classroom activities.
The magnetic field of the Earth is very central when the northern lights are formed. It is therefore useful to study the magnetic fields, both static fields and fields that vary. Measurements of variations in the magnetic field of the Earth that are formed near the ground are used in order to say something about the activity in the atmosphere.
From research we know that the rapid variations we often observe in the field of the Earth are due to strong electric currents in our nearby space.
In the classroom we can make simple models of such electrical current systems and show that there is a close connection between magnetic fields and electrical currents.
You are now going to be a researcher of the Sun and the northern lights and you are going to study and analyse real time data. The task is: Is it possible that there will be any northern lights?
Remember to take notes about which time span you are observing both in local time (LT) and universal time (UT). In addition, it is practical to make a copy of the observations.
The different observations are connected to the background information in sarepta.org. It is important to study this to be able to give the best possible analysis of the data.
Before the observation
1) Look at spaceweather.com to see if any northern lights have been forecasted in the immediate future. Find an evening suitable for making northern lights observations. Write down the forecast if
there is any.
2) Look at the image of the Sun under the heading "Daily Sun" at spaceweather.com.
How many sunspots can you see?
Also write down the official number of sunspots (Sunspot number) written under the image.
The picture to the right is a Sun image from 4th March 2007 registered by The Sun Observatory SOHO. Click on the image in order to see the sunspot 944 in a larger version.
What else can you find out about Sun activity on the website?
Which northern light activity does TV2 forecast (Norwegian website) the same evening? Do they forecast any visible northern lights? Write down what is written under “Warning for tonight?” that same day/evening that you have chosen to observe.
Observations when you have found a suitable time for observations
4) Study the northern lights oval by means of data from the POES satellites.
Read "The POES satellites and the northern lights" and use the link to the most recent images of the northern lights ovals.
Can you see any changes in the POES images of the northern light oval in relation to the sun-wind measurements from the ACE?
If so, which? Notice that the sun-wind uses 30 – 90 minutes from the ACE. When will these changes appear?
Where does there seem to be northern lights?
Are there any northern lights in Norway? If so, how far south in Norway does the northern lights oval extend?
There will always be northern lights at some place or another. Only they need not be visible.
The image to the right shows the northern lights oval of 18th November 2007.
Click on the image in order to study the animation showing alterations during the day.
5) Study the magnetometer measurements from the different measuring stations.
Read the "Magnetometer measurements and the northern lights" and use the link to the Northern Lights Observatory in Tromsø in order to study the latest magnetometer plots from different measurement stations. By entering "Stacked D", "V" or "H" you may see the plots from all stations simultaneously.
Use the Z component (the vertical component V) and find out where the northern lights lie according to the magnetometers. Give reasons for your answer.
If the northern lights are in an area nearby and there is clear weather, you definitely ought to go out and have a look at them. Are you the lucky one?
Remember that the northern lights may be visible at a distance of up to 400 metres, so you do not have to have them right over your head in order to see them.