Grasping the Northern Lights

AuroraNet brings together teachers and enthusiasts who share a common interest in observing the northern lights using the low cost netPICOMAG aurora detector.

Curious about what AuroraNet and school magnetometer initiative is all about? Check out these recent posters from Alberta Rural Development Network (ARDN) May 2010 meeting
and the American Geophysical Union spring meeting, Toronto, 2009.

Feel free to scan the educational documents, check the magnetometer data, or start a discussion on the web forum.

Magnetometers for Schools, Amateur Astronomy and Amateur Radio

The northern lights are a tangible sign to northern and rural Canadian students that our country is on the edge of space. They are also the subject of intense scientific investigation, and our project will allow insight and participation in cutting-edge Canadian research. At the heart of the project is a Canadian advance in low-cost magnetometry that brings precision instruments down in cost, to the point that they can be used in education.

The goal of this project is to place magnetometers in schools through the establishment of a network of low-cost, highly-sensitive, networked magnetometers that are easy to install and require minimal maintenance. The instruments will be distributed through a school visit where possible. The magnetometers have been designed to be simple enough for the recipients to perform the installation themselves. The magnetometers report back through the school internet to a central site ( where students will be able to compare and interact about data from events they may have witnessed. Comprehensive educational support materials have been made available courtesey of NASA's THEMIS mission.

This project will lead up to the e-POP outreach effort, which will be ramped up with the anticipated launch of this important Canadian scientific satellite to study space weather from orbit. Canadian students will become aware of Canadian achievements and contributions to space research.

Students will interact with each other to interpret auroral events, in many cases events to which they have a first-hand connection through having seen an aurora. They will learn not only that magnetic signals from auroras exist in the first place, but that they vary from place to place and indicate where large electric currents flow in near-Earth space. They will be introduced to the concept of space weather and the practical aspects of auroral monitoring. By gathering actual space-related data, students and educators will participate in research, and the educational materials provided will allow a link to be made to the curriculum.

Want to get involved? Contact Ian Schofield at Athabasca University, Centre for Science, Athabasca, Alberata.

Photo credit: auroranet banner image courtesy of Danny Ponomar
Last updated March 16, 2012