Electrons Colliding in the Atmosphere

    The Aurora in the air last night over our hotel room were bizarre to watch. They are a seemingly alien thing, moving and dancing thanks to the interaction between a star and the magnetic molten center of a watery rock.

    The Aurora borealis appear when electrons from solar winds are accelerated by the Earth's magnetic fields, and then collide with gases in the atmosphere!

    The ends of the Earth are a special place, where it is possible to observe phenomena that reveal so much about our planet as a whole. The achievement of science astounds me sometimes - that so much understanding has emerged as a result of billions of individual small observations. While many stereotypes may exist in fiction of arrogant or power-mad scientists, there is something that feels uniquely humble about setting the conditions for observation, then sitting back and allowing the planet to educate you about how it works. Getting selected to be in PolarTREC was my invitation to be a part of that process, and it is so amazing to be here and getting ready to share it with the public!

    Comfort in Insignificance

    At home, I know my friends are stressed right now because of the impending layoffs of thousand(s) of Chicago teachers, partial government shutdowns in counties across Illinois, and gouging of social services. Those issues are all deeply important to me - but as part of PolarTREC, I feel like my job is to step outside those fights for a second and allow myself to bask in massive environmental forces and chemical processes, all invisible without instruments. It's a chance to remind myself that the total of harmful things happening to humans in Chicago is infinitesimal when compared to all the things that are happening, period.

    Weather Summary
    It's cold - but fortunately, the wind in Fairbanks is nonexistent, especially compared to Chicago.
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    Dominique Richardson

    What a great picture of the aurora! Why does this phenomenon occur only at the poles?
    I'm looking forward to reading your expedition journals!

    Lisa Seff

    Hi Ivy! Glad you were welcomed to Fairbanks with what looks like an amazing aurora! You expedition looks very interesting. Permafrost thawing and it's impact on carbon release is such an important topic of study. I'm really looking forward to following your research expedition.

    Mark Goldner

    Ivy, I really like your perspective here - what a contrast between the hugeness of astronomical events with the scale of personal and community struggles. Through this research experience I'm sure you'll be exploring these different perspectives.

    Ivy McDaniel

    Hey Dominique! Great question! My understanding is fairly basic, so this is a good thing to investigate through sources at NASA. As best as I understand, the charged particles emitted by the suns are guided along the lines of Earth's magnetic fields. These lines only approach the Earth at the polar regions, so this the only place where the accelerated charged particles will be able to transmit their energy to molecules of the atmosphere.