During the aurora borealis (northern lights) and the aurora australis (southern lights), curtains of light flow across the night sky. The Canadian Space Agency predicts a "solar maximum" with greater aurora borealis activity in 2013. The conditions that create the auroras include the activity of the sun, the Van Allen radiation belt and the earth's magnetic fields. Students can complete fascinating science projects about the aurora.
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Solar Activity and the Earth's Magnetic Field
Solar wind, consisting of protons and electrons, carries the magnetic field of the sun into space. Particles of the solar wind can take 17 hours to seven days to reach the earth. Explore the physics of the solar wind and why it affects the auroras at both of the earth's poles. Create a Power Point or display with a diagram of the solar wind and computer-generated maps from scientific websites. Write captions that describe the electromagnetic activity of the solar wind. Present an oral report on the interaction of the solar wind with the earth's magnetic fields.
Colour and Position of the Aurora
The colours of the auroras appear more brilliant at some times than others. During some periods, the auroras migrate away from the poles and become visible at lower latitudes. An aurora science project could study the phenomena that determine the colours and movement of the auroras and how far the auroras can migrate. Create a model using a curtain of coloured ribbons suspended from a horizontal curved wire. Because each colour occurs at a specific atmospheric layer, each strip of ribbon should show the layers of colours in the correct positions. Blow gently on the ribbon to simulate the flowing movement of the aurora. Demonstrate the migration of the aurora by moving the ribbon curtain away from the magnetic pole on a globe.
Historic Timeline and Researchers' Discoveries
Canadian researchers have studied the auroras since 1839. As scientific tools have become more sophisticated, scientists have continued to expand their knowledge of the auroras. Students interested in the history of aurora science could research the scientists, their discoveries about the auroras and how technology has affected the growing body of scientific knowledge. Create a display with a time line of six to eight discoveries about the auroras and the technologies used to discover them such as telescopes, magnetometers, satellites and rockets. Describe the mystery solved in 2008 by the THEMIS project.
Forecasting Aurora Activity
Scientists can predict the activity of the auroras, and science students can research who assembles the data, how they assemble it and the kinds of information that allow scientists to predict what the auroras will do. Check the aurora forecasting data tools on the NOAA website and chart the data over a 28-day cycle. Identify five dates when the predictions had the greatest differences from the actual levels of aurora activity, and note the magnitude of the differences. Explain why you think these differences occur.
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