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Thursday, February 05, 2009

EISCAT on the Beeb

This week the Sky at Night focused on the Northern Lights.

Chris Lintott travelled to the EISCAT facility in Tromsø, a place I know well, and met a couple of scientists, one of them being a professor from Lancaster University in the UK, who was up there on an experimental campaign.

The show originally aired on BBC4 on Monday and there are 4 days left to watch it on the iPlayer. It will also be shown on BBC1 on the 9th (times vary by country). Obviously I am biased but I think it is well worth a view.

In the studio Patrick was talking to Tony van Eyken (former EISCAT director) and Chris Davis (heavily involved in the very cool STEREO spacecraft). Chris showed that there was actually a CME recently, a nice thing to see in this minimum. In addition they pointed out how important this sort of science is for exploration of other planets - even Mars which only has crustal fields!

Tony pointed out that we understand the aurora in general terms but we don't understand the highly important fine detail and complexity. I suspect that is why some STP folk get accused of doing 'more of the same', folk don't realise that finer and more detailed observations throw up new and unexpected processes that operate.

The nice thing about instruments like EISCAT is that we can get a good, close-up look at these rapidly time-varying phenemona and start to understand how these processes work and that gives us a valuable insight into the things that happen on other planets, in the solar wind or even on stars.

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