February 8, 2012 Down Time and The Aurora
So what do educators, who have been selected to join a research expedition to the Polar Regions, do between the hours of 8pm and 8am, when they have some time off from the scheduled PolarTREC Orientation hours? Well…..not what you’d think. Sleeping, while an option, was not one often chosen by this group until cellular decomposition felt like it was beginning to settle in! And while we did enjoy great meals and good company, food on the table quickly fell into the background and acted only as a base for discussions on the latest in polar research and educational practices.
Over one such breakfast, researcher Heidi Roop detailed the processes involved with ice core drilling in Antarctica as well as how following the ice, from the drill location to the lab was of top priority to insure quality data. During a car ride to dinner, Dr. Samantha Hansen bumped up our knowledge on plate tectonics without skipping a beat, giving us clear examples of complex processes relating to mountain building, hot spots and super volcanoes all while traveling along the icy Alaskan roadway.
The Aurora or We're Not In Springs Anymore!
After dinner Tuesday night, educator Tim Spuck introduced us to the University of Alaska’s Geophysical Institutes Aurora Forecast website and explained the science behind the Aurora phenomena. The basic explanation is that when electrons and protons from the Sun travel along Earth’s magnetic field lines that come together near both Poles, the particles collide with atoms in the atmosphere. During the collision an exchange of energy takes place that excites the atoms. When the atoms return to an unexcited state they can give off light resulting in the Aurora. For a more detailed explanation, as well as the Aurora forecast please visit the following website:
After a quick look at the forecast (see above diagrams), we realized it was a good time to head out and accordingly crammed everyone into the car. If you’ve ever wondered how many science teachers and researchers you can fit into a compact car on the way to see their first Aurora-we can tell you, it's seven. We drove a bit out of town for a less light obstructed view of the night sky so our Aurora view would only have to compete with the gibbous moon and not with the additional light from the Fairbanks city skyline. What a night! Swirling ribbons and curtains of greens and blues appeared above the horizon, increasing and decreasing in intensity as though synched with a far away symphony that we couldn’t hear. Just an amazing site and one quite different from our nighttime view back in Springs.