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Nov
07
2014

A Hands-On Visual Demonstration of Space Weather

Posted by Karin Hauck
Karin Hauck

dark sphere with flashing purple plasma encircling it

[Today's Multiverse Guest Blogger is Emmanuel Masongsong, a passionate outreach educator with NASA's THEMIS/ARTEMIS mission team at UCLA. Today he talks about the Planeterrella, a miniature Earth model that can simulate the aurora (Northern Lights) and other plasma phenomena, the sight of which causes "children and adults to shriek with delight, 'ooh-ing' and 'aah-ing' at the eerie glow of plasma suspended in a ring before their very eyes."]

I had a pretty strong amateur astronomy background, but when I joined the team in early 2011, heliophysics, near-Earth electromagnetism, and space weather really forced me to expand my perception. Describing the immense electromagnetic phenomena in the solar wind and Earth's magnetic field requires specialized instruments and multiple spacecraft to observe what humans cannot actually see. One of the first things I realized about space weather is that the media and the public's attention are heavily weighted to the visible solar phenomena of flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs)-- thanks to gorgeous images from SDO, SOHO, and STEREO. The news headlines harp on X-flares and devastating clouds of solar material (plasma) hurtling towards Earth, offering overly ambitious predictions of spectacular aurora that are not based on real-time satellite observations (and are thus usually disappointing).

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Tags: aurora outreach space weather
Categories: categoryIn-Focus


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