Scientist recreates aurora borealis in a box

1 min read

Lancaster University space scientist Dr Jim Wild has created a model to bring the experience of the Northern Lights into the classroom.

The ’aurora in a box’, which recreates the physics involved in the creation of the Northern Lights or aurora borealis, will be used to demonstrate how electrically charged particles in the atmosphere create the spectacle seen at the Earth’s poles.

Wild, a physicist studying the space environment and the links between the sun, the Earth and other planets, was awarded a grant from Research Councils UK to create the tool to explain the research to non-specialist audiences.

He said: ’The science of the aurora is basically the same as that of a neon lamp, like any found in shops and advertising displays.’

Auroras are linked to the solar wind, a flow of ions and electrons continuously flowing outward from the sun. The Earth’s magnetic field traps these particles, most of which travel toward the poles where they are accelerated towards the Earth. Collisions between these particles, and atmospheric atoms and molecules, cause energy releases in the form of streams or arches of coloured light.

The ’aurora in a box’ consists of glass tubes full of gas through which electrons move, causing the gas to fluoresce exactly as it does at the Earth’s poles.

Wild uses the model to help him explain his research to children in schools, at university events and at national science events such as National Science and Engineering Week’s Big Bang event in Manchester last year.