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NAM 17: School pupils to study space radiation belts

Last Updated on Wednesday, 20 April 2011 09:58
Published on Friday, 15 April 2011 16:36

 The Van Allen radiation belts are a hazardous environment, full of 'killer' electrons that can be lethal to orbiting satellites. And when those electrons sometimes hit the atmosphere, they alter its chemistry with implications for climate variation. Now students at a school in Yorkshire are set to help scientists better understand the belts.

Kavanagh
Teacher, scientist and pupil all standing in front of the new AARDDVARK receiver at Headlands School and Community Science College. Credit: Andrew Kavanagh
Dr Andrew Kavanagh will present this innovative project between Lancaster University and Headlands School and Community Science College on Wednesday 20 April at the Royal Astronomical Society's National Astronomy Meeting (NAM 2011) in Llandudno, Wales.

The belts were discovered at the dawn of the space age by the Explorer 1 satellite launched in 1958, but scientists still do not really understand how they form and how they change with time.

In the new partnership, Headlands School will host a sensitive radio receiver supplied by ionospheric physicists from the Space Plasma Environment and Radio Science Group at Lancaster University. The receiver will form part of the global Antarctic-Arctic Radiation-belt (Dynamic) Deposition - VLF Atmospheric Research Konsortium (AARDDVARK) consortium of international universities and will pick up signals from very low frequency transmitters from around the globe.

Van Allen belt electrons that drop into the atmosphere between the transmitters and the receiver will change the radio signals between them. The Headlands receiver is particularly well placed as it will monitor signals that cross right under the footprint of the radiation belts.

Long-term monitoring will let the AARDDVARK scientists determine how much of the change in the radiation belts is due to loss to the atmosphere and how much of a direct impact geomagnetic storms have on the middle and lower regions of our atmosphere. The project will support the aims of the NASA Radiation Belt Storm Probe Mission due to be launched in 2012.

The students from Headlands School will have direct access to the data and will undertake projects looking at how the signal varies and look at sources of radio noise such as lightning. They will also be in direct contact with the project scientists giving them an insight into how modern scientific research is carried out.

Dr Kavanagh sees the collaboration as a real way to engage schoolchildren with science: "We hope that by interacting with this project the students will get a better feel for how important science can be for their everyday lives, as well as stimulating them to ask questions about the wider Universe.

'And the really exciting thing is that this is a project of mutual benefit. The work that the Headlands pupils do will contribute to our understanding of the Earth's space environment and our place within it."

SCIENCE CONTACTS

Dr Andrew Kavanagh
Space Plasma Environment and Radio Science Group
Department of Physics
Lancaster University
Tel: +44 (0)152 450 1411
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

PRESS CONTACTS

NAM 2011 Press Office (0900 – 1730 BST, 18-21 April only)
Conwy Room
Venue Cymru conference centre
Llandudno
Tel: +44 (0)1492 873 637, +44 (0)1492 873 638

Dr Robert Massey
Royal Astronomical Society
Mob: +44 (0)794 124 8035
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Anita Heward
Royal Astronomical Society
Mob: +44 (0)7756 034 243
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

IMAGES

Images associated with the project can be found at http://spears.lancs.ac.uk/~kavanaaj/headlands_vlf/

NOTES FOR EDITORS

NAM 2011

Bringing together around 500 astronomers and space scientists, the RAS National Astronomy Meeting 2011 (NAM 2011: http://www.ras.org.uk/nam-2011) will take place from 17-21 April in Venue Cymru (http://www.venuecymru.co.uk), Llandudno, Wales. The conference is held in conjunction with the UK Solar Physics (UKSP: http://www.uksolphys.org) and Magnetosphere Ionosphere and Solar-Terrestrial Physics (MIST: http://www.mist.ac.uk) meetings. NAM 2011 is principally sponsored by the RAS and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC: http://www.stfc.ac.uk).

The Royal Astronomical Society

The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS: http://www.ras.org.uk), founded in 1820, encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. The RAS organizes scientific meetings, publishes international research and review journals, recognizes outstanding achievements by the award of medals and prizes, maintains an extensive library, supports education through grants and outreach activities and represents UK astronomy nationally and internationally. Its more than 3500 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others.

The Science and Technology Facilities Council

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC: http://www.stfc.ac.uk) ensures the UK retains its leading place on the world stage by delivering world-class science; accessing and hosting international facilities; developing innovative technologies; and increasing the socio-economic impact of its research through effective knowledge exchange. The Council has a broad science portfolio including Astronomy, Particle Astrophysics and Space Science. In the area of astronomy it funds the UK membership of international bodies such as the European Southern Observatory.

Venue Cymru

Venue Cymru (http://www.venuecymru.co.uk) is a purpose built conference centre and theatre with modern facilities for up to 2000 delegates. Located on the Llandudno promenade with stunning sea and mountain views; Venue Cymru comprises a stunning location, outstanding quality and exceptional value: the perfect conference package.