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RAS PN 08/16 (NAM 07): Magnetic substorms from ground and space

Last Updated on Tuesday, 06 April 2010 18:15
Published on Wednesday, 02 April 2008 00:00
One of the most dynamic events in the interaction between the Sun and the Earth is a ‘substorm’, an explosive reshaping of the Earth’s outer magnetic field. To better understand substorms, scientists in Europe and North America are studying them from space using the Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms (THEMIS) satellites launched by NASA in 2007 and from the ground using a network of all-sky cameras.

In her talk on Tuesday 1 April at the RAS National Astronomy Meeting in Belfast, University of Lancaster solar-terrestrial scientist Dr Emma Woodfield will present the first few months of results from the Rainbow cameras newly installed in southern Iceland that complement this network.

ROYAL ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY PRESS INFORMATION NOTE

Date: 28 March 2008
Ref.: PN 08/16 (NAM 07)

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NAM 2008

Royal Astronomical Society

CONTACT DETAILS ARE LISTED AT THE END OF THIS RELEASE

RAS PN 08/16 (NAM 07): MAGNETIC SUBSTORMS FROM GROUND AND SPACE

One of the most dynamic events in the interaction between the Sun and the Earth is a ‘substorm’, an explosive reshaping of the Earth’s outer magnetic field. To better understand substorms, scientists in Europe and North America are studying them from space using the Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms (THEMIS) satellites launched by NASA in 2007 and from the ground using a network of all-sky cameras. In her talk on Tuesday 1 April at the RAS National Astronomy Meeting in Belfast, University of Lancaster solar-terrestrial scientist Dr Emma Woodfield will present the first few months of results from the Rainbow cameras newly installed in southern Iceland that complement this network.

Best seen from within the Arctic and Antarctic Circles, the northern and southern lights (aurora borealis and aurora australis) are the most visible way in which the Sun affects the upper atmosphere and magnetic field of the Earth. More severe consequences of the interaction between the Sun and the Earth include disruption to radio communications, GPS systems and satellite electronics and overloaded power grids. This has made understanding ‘space weather’ a priority for physicists around the world.

Substorms result from a build up of energy deposited by the solar wind into the near-Earth environment and at their onset there is a dramatic increase in the intensity and activity of the aurora. The ground-based Rainbow cameras designed by the University of Calgary, Canada, track rapid changes in the aurora by taking full colour images of the whole sky through a fish-eye lens every 6 seconds.

To fully understand the nature of substorms and to distinguish between the main competing models describing the substorm process there has been a dramatic increase in the number of these ground instruments across Canada and the northern United States.  This makes it possible to “join up the dots”, linking what goes on further out in space seen by the THEMIS satellites with the phenomena observed closer to home. 

Scientists from Lancaster University have now put into place the first of three cameras that will bridge a gap in coverage between North America and mainland Europe. The ‘Rainbow’ camera was installed at a site maintained by the University of Leicester near Þykkvibær in southern Iceland in October 2007.

In her talk, Dr Woodfield will present images and movies from the Rainbow camera showing the dramatic changes in aurora structure following the onset of a substorm. She is upbeat about the results to date.

“We have had a wonderful first observing season. Now the hard work really begins as we sift through the data for vital clues to how a substorm really works.”

FURTHER INFORMATION (INCLUDING IMAGES AND MOVIES)

Movies and stills from the Rainbow camera:

Image caption “Rainbow camera image taken from just after substorm onset on 1 February 2008”, Image: Dr. James Wild, Lancaster University.

Movie caption “The Rainbow camera images captures a quiet auroral arc erupting rapidly at substorm onset, 1 February 2008”. Movie: Dr. James Wild, Lancaster University.

THEMIS mission home page

THEMIS Public Outreach website

RAS National Astronomy Meeting

SPEARS group web pages, Lancaster University

RAS home page

NOTES FOR EDITORS

Þykkvibær uses the Icelandic letters Þ and æ, a suitable alternative if these characters are not available is “Thykkvibaer”.

Rainbow equipment designed and supplied by the University of Calgary, Canada.

The Rainbow cameras are installed and maintained by Lancaster University.

The Þykkvibær site is maintained by the University of Leicester.

The SPEARS (Space Plasma Environment and Radio Science) group at Lancaster University has a wide range of interests within Solar Terrestrial physics ranging from producing artificial aurora to understanding the impact of high speed Solar wind streams.  Like many other groups in the UK the SPEARS group has been hard hit by the deficit in the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) budget.

The RAS National Astronomy Meeting (NAM 2008) is hosted by Queen’s University Belfast. It is principally sponsored by the RAS and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). NAM 2008 is being held together with the UK Solar Physics (UKSP) and Magnetosphere, Ionosphere and Solar-Terrestrial (MIST) spring meetings.

CONTACTS:

Dr Emma Woodfield
Department of Communications Systems
InfoLab21
Lancaster University
Lancaster
LA1 4WA
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Tel: +44 (0)1524 510410

Dr Jim Wild (Principal Investigator on Rainbow camera)
Department of Communications Systems
InfoLab21
Lancaster University
Lancaster
LA1 4WA
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Tel: +44 (0)1524 510545