Aurora Borealis back on air from Greenland

The maximum of the solar activity is approaching! Like in 2012, an expedition to observe the Aurora Borealis from the south of Greenland will take place in the period 24-29 August. Named Shelios 2013, the expedition is promoted by the scientific-cultural association Shelios and is coordinated by its president Miquel Serra-Ricart, astronomer of the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands and member of the GLORIA Project. A daily broadcast from the surroundings of the Qaleraliq glacier will be available on the web.

Year 2013: Maximum of solar activity

In the upper panel, solar activity plot (sunspot number against time). The first peak corresponds to the last solar maximum (during the end of 2001); current predictions say that a new maximum will occur before the end of 2013. In the lower panel, solar activity during the last 100 years (number of sunspots on the surface of the Sun against time). Credits: sidc.be.

From the data collected in the last 200 years it is known that the solar maxima follow a cycle of approximately 11 years (see figure). Solar activity is defined by the number of sunspots detected on the surface of the Sun. As we approach the maximum, the number of sunspots increases, as shown in the upper panel. Additionally, Sun’s magnetic field changes polarity. Observational data tell us that this is just happening! This is a clear sign that the 24th period of solar activity will peak sometime before the end of 2013.

During the solar maxima the intensity of the solar wind increases, leading to an increase of flux of elementary particles arriving at Earth. These electrically charged particles are channeled towards the magnetic poles by the Earth’s magnetic field, where they interact with the Earth’s atmosphere, causing the Aurora Borealis (northern hemisphere) and the Aurora Australis (southern hemisphere). The best zone to observe the phenomena is in a circle around the magnetic North Pole, in particular between 60 and 70 degrees North. However the magnetic pole does not coincide with the geographic North Pole. Actually it moves over time. It is currently located off the coast of the Canadian island of Ellef Ringnes, meaning that southern Greenland is an excellent place to observe auroras.

Auroras

Aurora Borealis observed in late August of 2012 from the Tasiusaq farm. The pictures were taken during the Shelios 2012 expedition (see shelios.com/sh2012, J.C. Casado-starryearth.com).

Auroras are classified as diffuse or discrete. The latter type can consist of luminous curtains which change quickly and have several color tones (see the photo). The light emission takes place in the atmosphere at altitudes between 100 and 400 km and it is a consequence of the collision of the solar wind (essentially electrons) with atoms of oxygen (greenish tones) or nitrogen molecules (reddish tones).

As mentioned, this wonderful celestial spectacle only takes place in regions not to far from the North and the South Pole. However the show is worth a trip at least once in a lifetime! But if you can’t, Shelios and GLORIA are offering you a chance to watch the show via Internet at live.gloria-project.eu (see details below).

Expedition Location

Encircled numbers mark the locations where the observations and the broadcasting will take place.

The Shelios 2013 expedition is promoted by the scientific-cultural association Shelios and is coordinated by its president Dr. Miquel Serra-Ricart, Astronomer of the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands. The main objective of the expedition will be the observation of the aurora borealis from the South of Greenland at an epoch close to the maximum of the solar activity. More information available at shelios.com. A collection of images from the past expeditions is available here.

Broadcasting

There will be a daily broadcast between 24 and 29 August 2013 from the surroundings of the Qaleraliq glacier (longitude=46.6791W; latitude=60.9896N) and two additional places located in the south of Greenland (see map above). The live broadcast will be between 00:30 to 1:30 UT (2:30 – 3:30 CEST; where UT = Universal Time and CEST = Central European Summer Time); late in the night in Europe. Note that weather conditions could cause changes in the schedule. The event broadcast will include:

  1. Live Connection
    Live footage will be broadcast from a black and white camera each evening, providing video sequences showing the movements of the aurora. It can be watched on the GLORIA live website live.gloria-project.eu and the main collaborator sky-live.tv.
  2. One-Minute Time-Lapse
    Color still images will be obtained each minute and posted to the mentioned website to create a time-lapse animation of the aurora. Two identical Canon 5D Mark II cameras will be used. The observing sites will be separated by a distance of at least 1 km (maximum 50 km) in order to be able to calculate the height of the aurora using the parallax method. In fact these images will be accessible from the web in order to perform the proposed educational activity.

Educational activity

Using the collected aurora images, an educational activity is proposed to be carried out:

Calculation of aurora altitude from images using color and parallax methods.

See the activity reference document here.

Links

During the broadcasts we will have daily information on the solar activity through the following nodes:

Download the PDF of the event