Summer Science Exhibition 2011
5-10 July | Free entry
Cluster's mission to the magnetosphere
The aurora seen from Tromso, Norway, 14 Feb 2007. The green colour comes from electrons colliding with atomic oxygen at a height of 100km above the Earth’s surface. Image Courtesy Pete Lawrence, http://www.digitalsky.org.uk
Have you ever wondered what the aurora are or how they work? Do you want to know about the Earth's invisible shield in space that protects us and our technology from solar radiation and explosions on the Sun? Are you interested in how to measure something in space that you can't even see?
'Cluster’ are four European Space Agency spacecraft that are exploring near Earth space and the magnetosphere, the invisible shield that surrounds us. At this exhibit you can learn about how the magnetosphere protects Earth from solar activity and about how it acts as the battery that powers the aurora.
Magnetic fields are everywhere in space. The Earth has one that stretches past the Moon and the Sun has one that reaches the edge of the solar system. The Sun's magnetic field is carried by the solar wind, a continuous but variable flow of electrically charged gas that streams away from the Sun at 1,000,000 miles per hour. The Earth's magnetic field makes a bubble in this flow of solar wind called the magnetosphere. It stops the solar wind hitting the Earth and blasting our atmosphere off into space.
The magnetosphere isn’t a perfect shield. It can let in some energy and particles from the solar wind and store them, but only up to a point. Once a large enough amount of energy is stored in the magnetosphere, it is explosively released, accelerating particles along the magnetic field towards the Earth. These particles collide with the gas molecules in the atmosphere, causing them to give off light – the aurora.
This is an interview with Dr Jim Wild talking about his exhibit.
These pdf documents demonstrate some of the science of this exhibit.
Before the exhibition, visitors were invited to post questions about the science behind this exhibit (more information). The comments are now closed, but you can speak to the scientists in person at the exhibition.
Professor Andrew Fazakerley works at University College London.
This exhibit is presented by University College London, Imperial College London, University of Leicester, Lancaster University, STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and European Space Agency.
See all the exhibits.
Find the opening times and directions to the Royal Society.
Explore all 22 exhibits at this year's exhibition.
Come to one of the exciting events at the exhibition.
Register your school if you plan on bringing a group of pupils.
Updates about our work on bringing the exhibition to life.
Highlights from past Summer Science Exhibitions