What Happens When The Sun Throws A Glitter Bomb?
Liz MacDonald, a space plasma physicist at NASA, talks about the Aurorasaurus citizen science project and the discovery of the auroral effect called “Steve.”
Vocabulary: aurora, citizen science, atmosphere, latitude, magnetic field
Common Core State Standards: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6.1, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.7.1, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.8.1, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9–10.1, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11–12.1, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.6–8.4, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.9–10.4, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.11–12.4
Occasionally, people living in the upper latitudes get a celestial treat: the aurora (also known as the northern or southern lights, depending on your hemisphere). The dazzling displays of green, pink, and blue arise from complicated interactions among charged particles from the sun carried by solar winds, the Earth’s magnetic field, and gas molecules in the upper atmosphere. Liz MacDonald, a space plasma physicist at NASA, says that auroral research is hampered by a lack of data. She founded the Aurorasaurus project to connect citizen science observations of the aurora with people in the space weather research community. Recently, amateur observers tagged a previously undescribed type of auroral effect that appeared as a purplish streak. For now, they’re calling the streak “Steve.”
- Why do you think citizen science projects like Aurorasaurus are becoming more common?
- Why is it important that the observations of citizen scientists are shared with and verified by scientists like Liz MacDonald?
- Without using the phrase glitter bomb and using a maximum of 140 characters, explain how an Aurora is formed.
- How might analyzing aurora and aurora phenomena help us understand more about the sun?
- What are two questions you have about Steve or auroras in general?
- Learn more about auroras and what they can tell us about solar weather in this follow-up interview with Liz MacDonald. Check out the Aurorasaurus project and figure out how to get involved.
- Have students visualize and map a magnetic field using this activity that ends with a discussion of how compasses help us visualize the Earth’s magnetic field.