Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Northern lights glimmer with unexpected trait

24.04.2008
An international team of scientists has detected that some of the glow of Earth's aurora is polarized, an unexpected state for such emissions.

Measurements of this newfound polarization in the Northern Lights may provide scientists with fresh insights into the composition of Earth's upper atmosphere, the configuration of its magnetic field, and the energies of particles from the Sun, the researchers say.

If observed on other planets, the phenomenon might also give clues to the shape of the Sun's magnetic field as it curls around other bodies in the solar system.

When a beam of light is polarized, its electromagnetic waves share a common orientation, say, aligned vertically, or at some other angle. Until now, scientists thought that light from energized atoms and molecules in planetary upper atmospheres could not be polarized. The reason is simple: In spite of the low number of particles at the altitudes concerned (above 100 kilometers (60 miles)), there are still numerous collisions between molecules and gas atoms. Those collisions depolarize the emitted light.

Fifty years ago, an Australian researcher, Robert Duncan, claimed to observe what looked like polarization of auroral light, but other scientists found that single observation unconvincing.

To revisit the question, Jean Lilensten of the Laboratory of Planetology of Grenoble, France, and his colleagues studied auroral light with a custom-made telescope during the winters of 2006-2007 and 2007-2008. They made their observations from Svalbard Island, Norway, which is in the polar region, at a latitude of 79 degrees north.

At the north and south magnetic poles, many charged particles in the solar wind--a flow of electrically charged matter from the Sun--are captured by the planet's field and forced to plunge into the atmosphere. The particles strike atmospheric gases, causing light emissions.

Lilensten and his colleagues observed weak polarization of a red glow that radiates at an altitude of 220 kilometers (140 miles). The glow results from electrons hitting oxygen atoms. The scientists had suspected that such light might be polarized because Earth's magnetic field at high latitudes funnels the electrons, aligning the angles at which they penetrate the atmosphere.

The finding of auroral polarization "opens a new field in planetology," says Lilensten, who is the lead author of the study. He and his colleagues reported their results on 19 April in Geophysical Research Letters, a publication of the American Geophysical Union (AGU).

Fluctuations in the polarization measurements can reveal the energy of the particles coming from the Sun when they enter Earth's atmosphere, Lilensten notes. The intensity of the polarization gives clues to the composition of the upper atmosphere, particularly with regard to atomic oxygen.

Because polarization is strongest when the telescope points perpendicularly to the magnetic field lines, the measurements also provide a way to determine magnetic field configurations, Lilensten adds. That could prove especially useful as astronomers train their telescopes on other planetary atmospheres. If polarized emissions are observed there as well, the measurements may enable scientists to understand how the Sun's magnetic field is distorted by obstacles such as the planets Venus and Mars, which lack intrinsic magnetic fields.

Title:
"Polarization in aurorae: A new dimension for space environments studies"
Authors:
Jean Lilensten, Mathieu Barthelemy, Roland Thissen, Cyril Simon, Odile Dutuit:
CNRS-UJF, Laboratoire de Planetologie de Grenoble, Batiment D de physique, Grenoble, France; Cyril Simon is also at ESTEC, Noordwijk, Netherlands;

Joran Moen: Department of Physics, University of Oslo, Blindern, Oslo, Norway, and ESTEC, Noordwijk, Netherlands;

Dag A. Lorentzen, Fred Sigernes: Arctic Geophysics, University Centre in Svalbard, Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway;

Pierre Olivier Amblard: CNRS-INPG, GIPSA Lab, BP 46, Saint Martin d'Heres, France.

Citation:
Lilensten, J., J. Moen, M. Barthelemy, R. Thissen, C. Simon, D. A. Lorentzen, O.

Dutuit, P. O. Amblard, and F. Sigernes (2008), Polarization in aurorae: A new dimension for space environments studies, Geophys. Res. Lett., 35, L08804, doi:10.1029/2007GL033006.

Contact information for coauthors:
Jean Lilensten: office: +33 (0) 4 76 51 41 49, email: jean.lilensten@obs.ujf- grenoble.fr

Peter Weiss | American Geophysical Union
Further information:
http://www.agu.org
http://www.obs.ujf-grenoble.fr

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Predicting unpredictability: Information theory offers new way to read ice cores
07.12.2016 | Santa Fe Institute

nachricht Sea ice hit record lows in November
07.12.2016 | University of Colorado at Boulder

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Scientists track chemical and structural evolution of catalytic nanoparticles in 3-D

08.12.2016 | Materials Sciences

Decoding cement's shape promises greener concrete

08.12.2016 | Materials Sciences

Will Earth still exist 5 billion years from now?

08.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>