Norway Opens New ‘Window into Space’

May 24, 2008 06:05 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On the remote Norwegian island of Svalbard, researchers at a newly opened observatory prepare to study the aurora borealis.

30-Second Summary

The University Centre in Svalbard recently opened a new observatory to study the northern lights, also known as the aurora borealis. The Kjell Henriksen Observatory is situated atop Advent valley on the Arctic island of Svalbard, an area that experiences total darkness, day and night, throughout its almost 4-month-long polar winter.

Svalbard provides "a window into space", says Fred Sigernes, an atmospheric researcher at the University Centre, which runs the facility.

The research conducted at the observatory will be part of an international effort. Sixteen research teams from seven countries, including the United States, England and Japan, will have instruments at the Arctic observatory.

Although the aurora borealis and its southern counterpart, the aurora australis, can be seen from countless places on the planet, the observatory offers researchers a unique advantage.

Svalbard, located at about 78 degrees North latitude, experiences 24-hour darkness from around late October through mid-February. The absence of daylight allows researchers to study the dayside aurora, which is less vibrant and less easily observed than the nightside aurora.

The observatory’s primary research goals are to understand climate change and solar weather, of which the polar light display is one product. Solar storms can knock satellites out of position, disrupt radio signals and hinder the navigation of planes and cars.

In fact, an average-sized aurora borealis can produce more energy than the combined output of the entire planet’s electrical power plants.

Headline Links: Northern lights observatory opens

Background: What is the aurora borealis and where can it be seen?

Historical Context: The aurora borealis

Legends and superstitions

Analysis: The aurora borealis and the aurora australis are not mirror images.

Related Topics: How powerful is the aurora borealis?

Reference: Svalbard and finding magnetic latitudes


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