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UAF Geophysical Institute Lecture Series presents new aurora measurement method

Published: Feb. 8, 2021 at 4:20 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - The University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) Science for Alaska Lecture series continues on Tuesday February 9th with a new look at one of Alaska’s natural wonders. Last year, associate professor of geophysics Carl Tape, and research associate professor of space physics, Don Hampton teamed up to utilize a large number of seismometers currently deployed across Alaska in a new way.

“What we found was that seismometers are susceptible to changes in the magnetic field, from magnetic storms, or from the aurora. So we can use these seismometers to get us information about the dynamics in the sky, and that’s a pretty cool and novel idea,” said Tape.

These 200 seismometers are part of a nationally funded project called the Earthscope Seismic Array.

“The reason you can pick ‘em up in a seismometer is any sort of coil of wire, or any sort of metal like that, if you change the magnetic field through there you get a little bit of force. That’s what we’re seeing in these seismometers,” said Hampton.

“It also reminds us why we care about the magnetic field. There are pretty catastrophic events in the past where the sun goes ballistic, and there’s cool Auroras in the sky, but there can also be some big problems on the ground,” said Tape.

According to Hampton the use of these seismometers can help predict the potential impacts of unusual solar weather.

“These magnetic fluctuations when they interact along power lines, they can actually induce extra currents in those power lines. When they get back to the transformers at the substations, they can actually heat those up and in some cases damage them,” said Hampton

For more information on this developing work, Hampton and Tape’s lecture “Beyond the Lights: Measuring the Magnetic Aurora” will take place at 7:00 p.m. Tuesday and will be available for live streaming via Zoom and the UAF and Geophysical Institute Facebook pages.

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