Transcript for NASA Connect - Dancing In The Night Sky

[Alex Trebek:] The category

for final Jeopardy is
the Sun-Earth Connection

and the answer is; the gostly
light that produces the dance

of colors in the night sky
in the northern hemisphere.

The correct question of course
what is the Aurora Borealis

or Northern Lights?

Hello everyone I am
Alex Trebek the host

of the popular quiz
show "Jeopardy".

You know as a child growing
up in Northern Ontario,

Canada I was always
fascinated about the mystery

of the Northern Lights.

In this episode of NASA
Connect host Jennifer Pulley

and special co-host Dr. Sten
Odenwald will take you all

on an adventure to explore
the Aurora Borealis.

You will learn about the many
legends and midst that revolve

around the Aurora throughout
the history of mankind.

You will also learn
how NASA scientists

and engineers use satellite
technology to measure

and analyze Aurora data.

You'll visit Norwegian scientists

at the Andoya rocket range located
just inside the Arctic Circle

in Norway.

And in your classroom you'll use
data analysis and measurement

to plot the Aurora oval and
to the turn of the heights

of the Northern Lights, all in
this episode of NASA Connect,

"Dancing in the Night Sky".

[ Music ]

[Jennifer:] Hi!

Welcome to NASA Connect, the
show that connects you to math,

science, technology and NASA.

I am Jennifer Pulley.

[Sten:] And I am Sten
Odenwald astronomer

of the NASA Guard
Space Flight Centre.

[Jennifer:] On this episode of NASA
Connect we are filming on location

in Norway, a Scandinavian country
located in Northern Europe.

Today, Sten and I are at the
Viking Ship Museum in Oslo Norway.

And right beside us is an ancient
Viking burial ship called the

Oseburg and we know, it dates
back to the ninth century.

[Sten:] Wow.

[Jennifer:] So Sten let's
film in, why we are in Norway.

[Sten:] Because Norway is one of
the best countries in the world

to see the Northern Lights.

[Jennifer:] Or the Aurora Borealis.

Aurora was a Roman
goddess of the dawn

and Boreal is a Latin word meaning
north thus the Northern Light.

There is a lot of folklore
about the Northern Lights

in various cultures from around
the world have explained them

as dancing spirits or blood
raining from the clouds.

The Vikings believe the Northern
Lights were beams reflected

from the shields of the Valkyries.

Female warriors serving their god
Oden the aboriginals of Scandinavia

or the Sami believed that the
Northern Lights have supernatural

powers to resolve conflicts.

The Sami painted a war
symbols on their magic drums.

In middle age Europe the
Northern Lights were thought

to be reflections of heavenly
warriors as a reward the soldiers

that gave their lives for their
king or country were allowed

to battle on the skies forever.

There are so many myths and
legends and superstitions

that have revolved around the
Northern Lights throughout the

history of mankind.

[Sten:] By the mid-1800
scientists finally began

to explain many of their mysteries.

Like lightening or earthquakes
they are natural events not

supernatural ones.

By the turn of the twentieth
century scientist actually created

artificial aurora in
their laboratories.

Christian Burkland a famous
Norwegian scientist created this

device called the Torella a
magnetic sphere representing

the earth.

Currently housed at the Norwegian
technical museum this device

creates artificial Aurora by
using an electronic gun similar

to the one in your TV picture tube.

Burkland believed that
currents of electrons

from the sun caused the aurora.

He laid the ground work
for the modern day's study

of the Northern Lights.

Today, thanks to modern
research satellites.

We now have a deeper and
more complete understanding

of how the Northern Lights work.

[Jennifer:] Say, do you remember
what the final Jeopardy category

was at the beginning
of the program.

Well, if you don't, it was
the Sun-Earth Connection

and Sten isn't it true that the
sun is the source of the Auroras.

[Sten:] That's right Jennifer.

The sun does play a role
in producing the aurora.

The auroras are the only visible
evidence that we have that the sun

and the earth are insistent,
that are connected by more

than just gravity and sunlight.

You see the sun gives off
charged particles called ions.

These ions travel out in the
space, it speeds up three hundred

and fifty to seven hundred
kilometers per second.

A cloud or gas of such ions and
electrons is called the plasma.

The stream of plasma coming from
the sun is known as the solar wind.

The sun's corona or outer most
atmospheres continuously emits the

solar wind, a stream of
electrically charged particles.

Mostly protons and electrons,
flowing out in all directions,

it is commonly said that the
aurora's gorgeous curtains

of light are caused by particles
flowing directly from the sun.

But this is not the case at all.

When a major solar storm interacts

with the earth's magnetic field
it causes some parts of this field

to rearrange itself like rubber
bands pulled to breaking point.

The magnetic energy that is
released causes powerful currents

of particles to flow
from distant parts

of the magnetic field
into the atmosphere.

These currents flow
along the magnetic field

into the Polar Regions
and collide with nitrogen

and oxygen atoms in the atmosphere.

The color of the aurora
depends on which gas,

oxygen or nitrogen is being
excited by the electrons.

Oxygen emits either a greenish
yellow light the most familiar

color of the aurora or a red light.

Nitrogen generally
gives off a blue light.

The blending of these colors
can also produce purples,

pinks and whites.

[Jennifer:] Sten,
that is fascinating

and of course it's beautiful.

[Sten:] That's right
it is beautiful

and you know the Northern Lights
are always moving like giant

curtains of light, weaving
and swaying across the sky.

[Jennifer:] So Sten how
do scientist study the

Northern Lights.

[Sten:] Well, besides
photographing them from the ground,

there are three other ways that
scientist like to study them;

ground based measuring devices,
sounding rockets and satellites.

Data can be collected from
these three methods and analyzed

by scientist to get a complete
picture of the Aurora Borealis.

To get a better idea of how
ground based instruments

and sounding rockets are
used, let's visit Professor

[inaudible] at the
Andoya Rocket Range.

[Jennifer:] But before
we visit Prof.

[inaudible] and learn more
about the rocket range,

let's review the two math
concepts for today's program,

data analysis and measurement.

Data analysis and measurement
are two important math concepts

to scientist and engineers.

You see before things can
be analyzed they must first

be measured.

Scientist and engineers
take measurements,

so they can collect data.

Think about what you measure
everyday; link, volume,

mass or temperature to name a few.

Once scientist and engineers
collect the data they need,

then they must analyze that data.

Scientists are constantly
on a look out for patterns

that can help them
understand how things work.

By analyzing data they can
construct relationships among

numbers and the scientific
principles they are investigating.

Now that you understand the
importance of data analysis

and measurement, let's
go meet with Prof.


>> How is the

[inaudible] used to
measure auroral activity?

>> In analyzing the graph, what
indicates a great disturbance

in the earth's magnetic field?

>> How are sounding rockets useful
to scientists and engineers?

[Jennifer:] Prof.

[inaudible], how are you?

>> Fine, thank you and
how are you Jennifer?

[Jennifer:] I am wonderful.

I am wonderful.

This is Dr.


>> Hello Prof.

>> Hello Dr.

[inaudible] nice to meet you.

>> Meet you too.

[Jennifer:] You know the Andoya
Rocket Range is an exciting

facility can you tell
us some more about it?

>> Andoya Rockets Range is the
furthest north permanent located

rocket range where we launched
rocket and scientific balloons.

It's located here because it's
just under the royal depth.

And this is the place where we
do all the launching of rocket

and balloons from Norway.

The range provides complete
services for launch operation,

data acquisition, recovery and
ground instrumented support.

Since 1962 more than eight
hundred rockets have been launched

from this range.

We have also hosted scientist
and engineer for more

than seventy institute and
university around the world.

>> Professor, what kind of ground
based measurements do you take here

at the range?

>> Well we take a lot of
different measurements,

but I think the most
important is the recording

of the earth magnetic
filed and for that type

of recordings we use
a magnetometer.

[Jennifer:] A magnetometer,
sounds like an instrument

that measures magnets or
may be a magnetic field?

>> You are on the
right track Jennifer.

A magnetometer can be used to
measure weak, short term variation

in the strength of the earth

[inaudible] field.

It was first used in the
year 1800 by Alexander from

[inaudible] to start the aurora
and what he called magnetic stones.

These variations are
due to electric currents

in the upper atmosphere.

The electrons and ions
flowing in from distant region

of the earth's magnetic
field cause currents to flow

in the ionosphere and also
course the aurora currents.

So, a magnetometer measures a
quantity that is directly related

to the Northern Lights,

the stronger the magnetic
variation the higher the

auroral activity.

[Jennifer:] Professor, this is
just type of magnetometer, correct?

>> That's correct, yes.

[Jennifer:] Now how do
you analyze the data

that you collect from
a magnetometer?

>> What we do is, well we reproduce
some graphic representation

and if there is a big deviation
from the local standard field,

we call them magnetic stone.

And I just want to show
you one example here

of the big magnetic stone.

And here you can really
see big deviation

from the local standard field.

Following graph shows a
relative weak magnetic stone.

The magnetometer measure the
geomagnetic field along three axis;

north, south or 'H' component
east-west or 'D' component and up

down or 'Set' component.

This graph is a magnetic field
strength versus time clock.

Now there is a block of a
relative stone, magnetic stone,

probably caused by a
disturbance in the solar wind.

What can we conclude
from the two graphs?

[Jennifer:] Now let me see.

The second graph shows
more magnetic activity

than the first graph.

So I would say the more
magnetic activity the greater the

auroral activity.

>> That's correct, Jennifer.

Notice in this section of the graph
the deviations are at the maximum,

if the night sky was clear
we can view the mysterious

and beautiful aurora colors.

Magnetometers locate
here at a range

of continuously taking measurements

of the local geomagnetic field.

In fact anyone from around the
world can visit the following

website to analyze the
geo-magnetic activity around

and their rocket range.

>> Professor you mentioned
that this facility is known

for aurora research
using sounding rockets?

>> Yes, that's correct.

As a matter of fact that's the
main purpose for the rocket range,

we can study the Aurora
from the ground,

but then we just look
on the bottom aurora.

If you studied aurora
from a satellite,

you will study the
top of the aurora.

But by using instrumented
rocket you can study the inside

of the aurora, that's why sounding
rocket is such a unique platform

for the auroral studies.

Other instruments under
rocket, register electric field

and magnetic field and
count particles coming

into the atmosphere from distance
part of the earth magnetic field.

Consequently, the energy

that produces the Northern
Light can be calculated.

During an ordinary
winter night in Norway,

the Northern Light involves
more energy than the country use

in one year as severe the
auroral storm can produce billions

of joules of energy per second.

[Jennifer:] Prof.

[inaudible], thank you,
we learned so much.

>> Its really my pleasure, thank
you too or as we say Norway,


[Jennifer:] Okay, guys, now it's
a time for a cue card review.

1. How is the magnetometer used
to measure auroral activity?

2. In analyzing the graph, what
indicate a great disturbance

in the earth's magnetic field?

3. How are sounding rockets useful
to scientists and engineers?

So, did you get all the
answers to the questions,

good, now let's review.

We've learned about the myths

and legends surrounding
the Northern Lights

and we also learned how
ground based instruments

and sounding rockets are
used to study the auroras.

Now, we turn our focus
to space later

in the program Dr. Nikki Fox
will tell us how data analysis

and measurement are used to
study the auroras with the help

of two NASA satellites
Polar and Timed.

But first Sten, will give
us the scoop on image.

[Sten:] Thanks, Jennifer,
aurora tell us in a dramatic way

that something invisible is
happening above our heads in space

to light up our skies.

We can use sophisticated earth
orbiting satellites to learn more

about the causes of the aurora.

The imager for magnetosphere
to aurora global exploration

or image is a NASA satellite that
lets us see the invisible activity

that swirls around the earth and
eventually causes aurora to appear.

When a solar storm collides with
earth one of the first signs

of the disturbance is a collection

of particles called
the wind current.

It's an invisible river of
charged particles extending

over thirty thousand
kilometers from earth.

Much of the matter in this
current actually comes

from the earth's upper atmosphere
in gigantic plumes and fountains

of gas from the Polar Regions.

But we still don't know how
the particles get their energy;

another part of the upper
atmosphere seen by image

for the first time is what
scientist calls the plasma sphere.

It extends out in to space at
least ten thousand kilometers;

you should think that it is the
outer limits to the ionosphere.

During severer storms parts of the
plasma sphere are stripped off,

but then reform as new gas flows
out of the earth's upper regions

and of course image
also provides scientists

with movie like high
resolution views

of the aurora seeing from space.

Over the South Pole, the satellite
dips down to a thousand kilometers

to show as never before seen
details in auroral structure.

The Aurora in the South Pole
is called Aurora Australis.

Over the North Pole we see a more
distant view any bigger picture we

can relate this big picture
with views of the wind current

and plasma sphere to
track the evolution

of an Aurora from cradle to grave.

The reason why we are so keen
to understand the aurora is

that the aurora are kind of
like a final examination;

if we can really understand
how they work,

that means we also
understand all the other things

about earth's environment as well.

We have billions of dollars
of satellite technology

in space astronauts
living and working in space

and on the ground
many kinds of systems

that are affected by solar storms.

An electrical blackout
in Canada back

in 1989 cost billions of dollars.

We have lost over two billion
dollars of expensive communication

and research satellites in
the last ten years alone.

Solar storms have tremendous
potential to cause damage to us.

Only by understanding Aurora and
the events that lead up to them,

can we improve our
ability to predict how

to avoid the harmful effects
of space weather storms?

The real challenge is to
get enough early warning

that a storm is approaching that's
why it's also important to look

at the sun for clues
to the next storm.

[Jennifer:] Thanks Sten.

Okay guys.

Now it's your turn to apply data
analysis and measurement skills

with this really collectivity.

Sten they are gorgeous aren't they?

[Sten:] Aren't they amazing?

>> Hi! We are students from

[inaudible] school right here I am


>> NASA Connect also to show
you this activity it's called

[inaudible] and aurora.

>> You can download
data on listed materials

from the NASA Connect Website.

>> Here are the main objectives.

[Jennifer:] Students will
find and plot locations

on map using geographic coordinate.

Draw conclusions based on graphical
information, convert centimeters

to kilometers using
the given scale,

here are some terms
you will need to know.

Latitude, a geographic coordinate
measured from the equator

with positive values going north
and negative values going south.

Longitude, a geographic coordinate
measured from the prime meridian

which is a longitude that
runs from Greenwich England

with positive values going east
and negative values going west.

>> Good morning class.

The Northern Lights are seen
with dramatic colors and only

in certain places in
the Northern Hemisphere.

Today you will plot the
location and boundaries

of a typical auroral oval
in the arctic region.

You will see its geographic extent
and determine its relationship

to familiar continents
and countries.

Distribute all of student material.

Students can work alone or in pair.

Students label the latitude lines
beginning at the center point

with ninety degrees, then mark
each circle ten degrees west

in the previous circle
ending at twenty degrees.

Next, label the unmarked
longitude lines; plot the points

on to the geographic
grid for the outer ring.

The geographic data-points
can be found

on the student activity sheet.

The points are identified as
order pair longitude, latitude.

For example, the order pair one
eighty-sixty means one hundred

eighty degrees longitude
and sixty degrees latitude.

Connect the points in the
outer ring, now plot the point

on to the geographic grid for the
inner ring and connect the points.

Using the scale one centimeter
equals fourteen hundred kilometers

measured in kilometers the
approximate width of the shortest

and longest distances between
the inner and outer range

and determine the range.

Record these values on the
student activity sheet.

>> Okay class.

From the analysis of your
graph, how far is the center

of the auroral oval
from the North Pole?

>> I calculated that the center
of the auroral oval over is

about five hundred
kilometers from the North Pole.

>> Very good

[inaudible] and where would
you travel in North America

to see the Northern Lights.

>> From the graph either Canada
or Alaska are the best places

to view the Northern Lights.

>> Students once you complete
the hands-on activity,

check out the web activity

for today' program called the
NASA Northern Nights challenge.

It can be accessed at
the NASA Connect website.

This activity is created
to be fun, interactive

and will challenge your
ability to solve problems.

During the course of the activity
we will use various probes

to explore properties of the
planets and our solar system.

There are eight interactive probes

in different color boxes along
the two sides you'll learn

about the temperature, magnetic
field strength solar wind density,

atmospheric gases, mean
distance, mean density, gravity

and speed on other planets.

Upon exploring each planet
you will apply what you learnt

to solve the following problem,

what other planets may
have the Northern Lights.

Special thanks to the students from

[inaudible] School and

[inaudible] School
and Virginia Beach,

Virginia for demonstrating
this web activity.

>> Super job you guys.

So what is NASA doing
to study the auroras.

Well Nikki Fox a Senior Scientist

at the John Hopkins University
Applied Physics laboratory

in Baltimore Maryland
can tell us all about it.

>> Why do Scientist view satellite
images to monitor the auroras?

>> In analyzing the graph when
do aurora activities increase?

>> What are the phases
of the aurora?

>> This is the John
Hopkins University,

Applied Physics Laboratory
and Laurel Maryland.

I am the Operation Scientist
for the Polar Mission.

The Polar Mission is part of
NASA's Sun-Earth Connections fleet,

within the Sun-Earth Connections
fleet Polar has the responsibility

for multi-wave length imaging of
the aurora measuring the entry

of the material into the Polar
Regions the flow of material to

and from the ionosphere and
the discharge of the energy

in the ionosphere and
the upper atmosphere.

Scientist use satellite
images to monitor the position

of the various auroral features.

In particular the latitudinal
location of the edge closest

to the equator of the aurora
determines the amount of activity.

The further the aurora moves
towards the equator the bigger the

event, also the extent
and speed of the expansion

of the aurora tells us a lot
about the amount of activity.

The further and faster it
moves the larger the events.

Polar is a unique space craft

because it carries four different
cameras to study the aurora.

There is a high resolution visible
imager, which allows us to look

at the aurora in different
wave lengths,

or colors in this way we can
simultaneously image the red,

blue and green components
of the aurora.

There is also a global imager
which allows us to look

at the whole earth at once.

This camera takes
pictures in ultra violet

so we can see what the
aurora is doing even

when there is sunlight in the way.

Auroras do occur during
the day time,

we just can't see them
with the naked eye.

But from the images of this
camera we can see the size

of the auroral oval.

For example, the following
graph shows you the latitude

in a auroral extent to selected
its coronal mass ejection events.

Coronal mass ejections or CME's
are gigantic explosions caused

by the sun that can reach speeds
of millions of kilometers per hour.

It takes around three days
for CME to reach the earth.

The vertical axis of the graph
is the geomagnetic north latitude

from forty degrees to
fifty eight degrees.

On a globe forty degrees North
latitude is closer to the equator

and fifty eight degree
North latitude is closer

to the geomagnetic North Pole.

The horizontal axis represents
the dates of selected CME events

from analysis of this
graph we can determine

that the latitudinal auroral
extent generally increased

from 1997 to 2000.

Be careful in the way you
interpret this growth.

The function appears

to be decreasing even though the
data show a downward trend the

auroral oval extended
closer to the equator.

For this particular
graph it tells us

that the auroral activity
increased lets look

at two data points.

From the data on January10th
1997 there was am auroral event

in the Northern Hemisphere
that extended to a latitude

of fifty seven point three degrees.

Do you know the name of the country
that the auroral oval covered?

If you said Canada,
then you were correct.

On July 15th, 2000, there was
an auroral event that extended

to latitude forty one
point two degrees.

The auroral activity was so intense
that the auroral oval stretched

in to the southern part
of the United States.

The eleven years solar cycle

of the sun reached its
maximum in the year 2000.

So we expected auroral activity
to increase from 1997 to 2000.

With all these cameras and the data
we collect we can photograph the

evolution of an Aurora.

The evolution of every aurora
tends to follow a similar sequence.

We call this an auroral sub storm.

The following images show a typical
sequence of an auroral sub storm.

The first image shows a quiet oval
before any activity begins this is

called the quiet phase.

Right before we see any bright
emissions we can observe the oval

getting bigger and to moves
further towards the equator.

This is called the growth
phase, the activity truly begins

with a small spot of light
or onset event followed

by the lighting of whole
ring and an expansion

to a more forward location.

The large bright region you can
see is called the auroral bulge.

When we the Aurora reaches its
maximum expansion you can see

that the large bulge
begins to break up

and the small discrete
features appear.

Finally, the whole aurora dims and
recovers it will eventually return

to the initial stage
to quiet phase.

The whole process may
repeat over and over again

until the activity
dies out completely.

Now all the images you've
seen so far have been

from the Northern Hemisphere
of the Northern Lights

or the Aurora Borealis.

But did you know that there
was also a Southern counterpart

of the Aurora called the Southern
Lights or the Aurora Australis

and here we are seeing
a unique movie taken

by the Polar space craft
that shows us both the North

and the South at the same time.

This allows us to see that
the activity is occurring

at the same time in both
hemispheres we call this

the conjugate Aurora.

Now we've seen data from
many different cameras

on the Polar space
craft and learned

that when you add them
all together you can learn

and often lot more
about the aurora.

Now we are looking at an animation

which shows the polar
auroral image underneath

with the time spacecraft
flying over the top.

Time is taking images in very
high resolution and you can see

that every time the
spacecraft flies

through the oval it suddenly
illuminates all the fine scaled

features that you
couldn't see before.

So now we know that when you add

to data sets together you
get even more information now

with the addition of data from
ground based observatories

and sounding rockets we
can look at the aurora

with full perspective.

>> Okay now it's time
for a cue card review.

1. Why the scientists use satellite
images to monitor the auroras?

2. In analyzing the graph when
do auroral activities increase?

3. What are the phases
of the Aurora?

>> Well, that wraps up another
episode of NASA Connect.

>> We'd like to thank everybody,
who to help make the show possible.

>> Got a question or comment or
perhaps a suggestion then write us

at NASA Centre for Distance
Learning NASA Langley Research

Centre, Mail Stop four
hundred, Hampton Virginia 23681.

You know each year here on

[inaudible] they celebrate
the beauty of the auroras

with the Northern Lights festival.

>> We leave you know with
some images of the festival

and the people of Norway.

>> So until next time stay
connected to math, science,

technology and of course NASA.

We will see you then
good bye from Norway.

>> Alright.