Alaska Expedition Will Help to Learn More About Northern Lights

A team of scientists is lofting weather balloons high into Alaska’s northern lights displays,

getting a unique inside look at this dazzling atmospheric phenomenon. The two-week expedition is called Project Aether: Aurora, and it’s slated to run through April 13. The goal is threefold: Learn more about the northern lights , test out equipment and help get kids more interested in science, technology, engineering and math, the so-called STEM subjects. As said project principal investigator Ben Longmier, a physicist at the University of Houston and chief research scientist at the Ad Astra Rocket Company they think that the excitement of the whole expedition, and the drama involved in completing this cutting-edge science, helps play into the motivation to go into the STEM fields. Project Aether: Aurora has traveled to Fairbanks, Alaska, to get a whole new perspective on the northern lights. Longmier and his colleagues are launching weather balloons to the edge of the auroras, about 19 miles (30 kilometers) up in the atmosphere. As said Longmier the balloons carry high-definition cameras, which record video and stills of the aurora. The team is also getting video and photos of the northern lights from the ground and, hopefully, from high above the dancing displays as well. The project is coordinating with astronaut Don Pettit, one of six crewmembers currently aboard the International Space Station, which zips around our planet at an altitude of 240 miles (386 km). In addition to the cameras, the project is lofting some other payloads, testing out how well low-cost, off-the-shelf equipment can make a variety of measurements within the aurora’s plasma environment. The team hopes to launch between 10 and 30 balloons by the time the expedition wraps up April 13. The team will track each one down after it bursts high up in the atmosphere and returns to Earth, slowed by a parachute.