Technological advances

"The way to the Cosmos is through the laboratory"
~ Hannes Alfven

Interest in the aurora and the Sun-Earth interaction has led to a number of technological advances.

The modern space age
The United States' entrance into the space age came from James Van Allen's interest in the electron stream which produces the aurora. This interest led to the discovery of the Van Allen radiation belts by a Geiger counter aboard the first American satellite.

All-sky camera
This camera, capable of photographing the entire dome of the sky, was developed to study the aurora by the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks during the International Geophysical Year (1957-1958). Simultaneous recordings from multiple all-sky cameras first confirmed the presence of an auroral oval. All-sky-based technology (Total Sky Imager) is also used to study clouds and weather.

allsky thumbnail
click to see camera and pictures


All-sky movie
(1173Kb MPEG)

Helpful links

Poker Flat's All-Sky Camera

Aurora Color Television Project

Horizontal E-region
eXperiment (HEX)

Aurora Color Television Project
The need to accurately capture auroral color and movement in convenient video format led to the development of a super-sensitive video camera.


Horizontal E-region experiment (HEX)
HEX is the first rocket designed to travel horizontally across the aurora. It leaves behind a trail of tri-methyl aluminum which is visible to observers on the ground. By watching the distortion of the trail over time, observers will study the upwelling of air heated by the aurora.


hex thumbnail
HEX rocket
click to see larger image

Computer modeling
Supercomputers allow modeling of the aurora ranging from studies on the shapes and production of auroral curtains all the way up to models of the entire magnetosphere. Computer models can act as a virtual laboratory allowing scientists to create, control, and understand processes that are impossible to replicate in a real lab.


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Geophysical Institute
903 Koyukuk Drive, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, Alaska 99775-7320
site last modified: August 2003 maintained by Asahi Aurora Web Manager