The Northern Lights’ story of sun-formed celestial substorms

Posted by pt91 at Oct 21, 2011 09:57 AM |
Solar winds battle with magnetic shields in public lecture on 25 October

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 21 October 2011

The next professorial inaugural lecture at the University of Leicester on 25 October will explore the role that our sun plays in the violent space weather that affects our satellite technologies.

In his lecture, ‘Sun et Lumière: solar control of the Northern Lights’, Professor Steve Milan of the University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy will describe the links of the chain that lead from the Sun to the Earth, and what can be learned about the anatomy of the Earth’s magnetic and plasma environment from a study of the auroras and related phenomena.

Professor Milan said, “There is more to the beauty of the Northern Lights, or aurora polaris, than meets the eye.  They tell of a long chain of events that starts at the Sun, stretches out through the solar system, circumnavigates the magnetic field of the Earth, and ends in the atmosphere at an altitude of 100 km. 

“Although the Earth’s magnetosphere can be a dynamic and hostile environment for humans and spacecraft, almost all the activity within it is invisible to us.  When we look up at the Sun at midday we are unaware that 65,000 km above our heads is a region of space where the solar wind crashes into our magnetic shield and where twisting and knotting magnetic fields store vast quantities of magnetic energy in our celestial backyard.”

“Only the auroras bear witness to the deposition of energy and particles in the atmosphere and the reconfiguration of near-Earth space when, every few hours, this stored energy is released suddenly and explosively in a process known as the substorm.  And so it is to the auroras we look when we try to understand the complex series of physical processes that mediate the interaction between the solar wind and our planet.”

“The ‘space weather’ that the lights represent has repercussions for us all in these times of increasing reliance on space-borne technology.”

‘Sun et Lumière: solar control of the Northern Lights’ will take place at 5.30pm in Lecture Theatre 1 in the Ken Edwards Building. It is free and open to the public, contact inaugural@le.ac.uk to book a place.

Notes to editors:

For further information contact Professor Steve Milan on (0116) 223 1896

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