The eleven years cycle of Sun’s activity is approaching its maximum. From August 24th to 29th a team of astronomers, engineers and astro-photographers will travel to southern Greenland to observe the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis), a phenomenon expected to be particularly spectacular during this period. The “Shelios 2013” expedition is coordinated by Miquel Serra-Ricart (a researcher from IAC, the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands). Thanks to the European project GLORIA (gloria-project.eu), videos and pictures of the aurora from Greenland will be broadcast live on the Internet.
Live footage will be broadcast from a black and white camera each evening, between 00:30 and 1:30 Universal Time, providing video sequences showing the movements of the aurora. The broadcast can be followed on the dedicated GLORIA portal live.gloria-project.eu or at sky-live.tv. The portal will also display updated information about the weather at the observing site and the actual broadcasting schedule. Information will also be disseminated via GLORIA’s social networks. Moreover, during the live broadcasting, every minute a pair of high resolution images – collected at the same time from two different locations some 10 km apart – will be made available to students to perform an educational activity: the calculation of the aurora altitude using the parallax method.
The wonderful celestial spectacle of the aurora occurs when very energetic particles from the Sun reach the Earth’s atmosphere via the solar wind. The entrance of these electrically charged particles (essentially electrons) into the Earth’s atmosphere is governed by the Earth’s magnetic field. The dipolar field channels these particles near the poles where they penetrate the atmosphere. The collision of the particles with the atoms and molecules of the atmosphere cause the light emission in regions around the North Pole (Aurora Borealis) and the South Pole (Aurora Australis). Auroras can sometimes appear as luminous curtains, which change quickly and show several colours. The light emission takes place at altitudes between 100 and 400 km. Collision of the particles with the oxygen atoms produce the greenish tones whereas nitrogen molecules are the cause of the reddish tones. During 2011 and 2012 intense auroras were detected coinciding with the current period of increased solar activity.
GLORIA is a collaborative project which aims to take advantage of the collective intelligence of the Internet community to perform astronomical research. Users can already contribute to the calculation of solar activity by obtaining and analysing images of the solar surface taken from the Teide Observatory (Canary Islands) with the TAD telescope, one of the 17 robotic telescopes – spread over four continents – of the GLORIA network. New developments and new means of collaboration will be added in the coming months. People interested in GLORIA are encouraged to visit the website of the project (gloria-project.eu) and to join its user’s community (users.gloria-project.eu) and social networks.
GLORIA is a three-year project financed by the Seventh Framework Program of the European Union (FP7/2007-2012) under agreement number 283783 with a budget of 2.5 million euro. The project, started in October 2011, involves 13 institutions from 8 countries. Please see gloria-project.eu/about/partners/
A collection of images from the past expeditions is available at www.flickr.com/photos/65131760@N06/sets/72157634760374049/