Northern Lights phenomenon replicated through awesome aurora device

Posted by ap507 at Dec 15, 2015 11:05 AM |
University of Leicester planeterrella device to be demonstrated at Royal Institution Christmas lecture on 30 December

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 15 December 2015

A video demonstrating The Planeterrella in action is available at:

University of Leicester researchers will be creating Northern Lights at the Royal Institution’s Christmas Lecture on the 30 December 2015. 

The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures are the UK’s flagship science series.  This year the theme of the lectures is ‘How to Survive in Space’, celebrating the launch of the British Astronaut Tim Peake to the International Space Station.

As Tim flies over the Earth, he will have the opportunity to view the Earth’s Northern Lights from space.

Meanwhile, University of Leicester researchers will be participating in the Christmas Lectures by recreating the Northern Lights for the studio audience using the University of Leicester’s Planeterrella.

The Northern Lights are created by charged particles from the Sun travelling along the Earth’s magnetic field lines and exciting our atmosphere. The University of Leicester’s Planeterrella, which was the first to be commissioned in the United Kingdom, creates Northern Lights within a vacuum chamber. 

The experiment was originally devised by Norwegian physicist Kristian Birkeland over one hundred years ago to understand how the Northern Lights work.

Dr Gabrielle Provan from the University of Leicester’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, who commissioned the Planeterrella, said: “Tim Peake will have the opportunity to view the Northern Lights from the International Space Station and we will use the Planeterrella to explain the science behind nature’s thrilling light show.”

The lecture at the Royal Institution will be celebrating the launch of astronaut Tim Peake to the International Space Station as part of the Principia mission. Tim Peake is the first Briton to qualify as an ESA astronaut and the mission marks a major change in British space policy.

More information about the Planeterrella can be found here:

A video of Tim Peake giving thanks to the support of the University of Leicester, among other Principia educational partners, is available here:


Notes to editors:

For more information please contact Dr Gabrielle Provan on


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