University of Leicester physicists to bring aurora to prestigious national exhibition

Posted by pt91 at Jul 07, 2011 12:44 PM |
Leicester researchers selected to exhibit at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition between 5-10 July
University of Leicester physicists to bring aurora to prestigious national exhibition

The planeterrella in operation.

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 7 July 2011

The Earth’s aurorae are the windows to the magnetosphere, the protective magnetic bubble that safeguards our planets from the Sun’s harmful particles.  However the magnetosphere is not a perfect shield and we would like to understand it better, so scientists from the UK are using the European Space Agency’s Cluster satellites to explore its workings. Without the magnetosphere’s protection life on Earth would not exist, and a better understanding of it is important in order to protect our satellites, spacecraft, astronauts and even electricity supply.

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The Cluster quartet: Credit ESA

The ‘Aurora Explorer’ exhibit at the Royal Society will be showcasing the Cluster space mission.  It is only one of  21 research projects selected from across the UK to be part of the prestigious annual Exhibition.   The University of Leicester are a partner in this exciting exhibit, lead by  UCL’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory,   and Leicester academics will  recreate auroral light shows in London.    Dr Gabby Provan and Dr Carlos Gane, of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, and Dr Alan Stocker, of the Department of Engineering, will present a small vacuum chamber, the planeterrella, which is capable of recreating the physics of the Northern Lights on Earth and other planets by stimulating auroral lights around magnetic spheres.

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Kristian Birkeland with his terrella. Credits:Photograph courtesy Nasjonalbiblioteket, Billedsamlingen, Oslo

“The exhibit is currently the only operating planeterrella in the UK,” said Dr Provan. “So this is a unique opportunity for visitors to see the cosmic phenomena up-close. It is based on the terrella experiment built by Kristian Birkeland. Birkeland suggested that the Earth’s aurora are created by charged particles travelling down magnetic field lines and into the Earth’s upper atmosphere, and built the terrella to prove it.

“The exhibit is both exciting and fun but most importantly it demonstrates vital physics for all to see. It is an honour to have been chosen to present our latest scientific research at a prestigious competitive event to an audience of many thousands.”

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Credit: United States Air Force photo by Senior Airman Joshua Strang

Taking place between 5-10 July at Carlton House Terrace in London, the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition is the Royal Society’s main public event of the year. The event is free and open to all and visitors are encouraged to interact with the researchers.

The Planeterrella website has further information, images and movies of the experiment and northern lights. -

Exhibit info can be found at

Information regarding the Royal Society Summer Exhibit can be found at

Notes to Editors

For more information, please contact :

Radio and Space Plasma Physics Group

Department of Physics and Astronomy

University of Leicester

Leicester LE1 7RH, UK

Tel. +44 116 252  2083

Nicola Kane

Press and Public Relations

The Royal Society, London

Tel: 020 7451 2508


Notes for editors:

1. A press preview will take place between 3pm – 5pm on Monday 4 July. Please contact the Royal Society press office to make arrangements to attend this.

2. Images available on request.

3. General info:  The Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition showcases cutting edge research in science and engineering from across the UK. It is held annually at the Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of science. Follow the Summer Science Exhibition on Twitter at using the hashtag #SSE2011.

4. Exhibition opening times:  The Exhibition is located in the Royal Society, 6-9 Carlton House Terrace, London, SW1Y 5 AG and takes place from Tuesday 5 July to Sunday 10 July 2011. Open Tuesday 5 July 10am – 9pm, Wednesday 6 – Thursday 7 July 10am – 5pm, Friday 8 July 10am – 9pm, Saturday 9 July 10am – 6pm, Sunday 10 July 11am – 6pm.  The event is FREE and open to the public.  Further information can be found at

5. The Royal Society is the UK’s national academy of science.  Founded in 1660, the Society has three roles, as a provider of independent scientific advice, as a learned Society, and as a funding agency. Our expertise is embodied in the Fellowship, which is made up of the finest scientists from the UK and beyond.  Our goals are to:

· Invest in future scientific leaders and in innovation

· Influence policymaking with the best scientific advice

· Invigorate science and mathematics education

· Increase access to the best science internationally

· Inspire an interest in the joy, wonder and excitement of scientific discovery

For further information please visit Follow the Royal Society on Twitter at or on Facebook at

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