Auroras - Living with a Star
Premieres Tuesday February 11, 2003

Auroras remain one of the most beautiful and mysterious of all natural phenomena. Seen frequently by the native peoples of Alaska, Scandinavia and the Arctic, they appear much more rarely at lower latitudes, but when they do they make a powerful impression. Back in history, auroras were taken as signs of impending disaster.

Image courtesy of Jan Curtis

Image courtesy of NASA

Today we know that a blood-red aurora seen close to the Equator may indeed forecast danger - not because of war or pestilence, but because it's an indication of disturbances in Earth's magnetosphere which may disrupt satellite communications, threaten humans in orbit aboard the Shuttle or International Space Station, corrode long-distance pipelines and overload power grids.

This program explores the science which gives auroras their shapes and colors, and relates them to the laws of physics and chemistry which create the Northern and Southern Lights. Viewers see electromagnetism and the composition of Earth's atmosphere at work.

visualization of protons and electrons accelerated towards the Poles
artist: Walt Feimer, NASA

Image courtesy of NASA

They'll discover the key scientific breakthroughs which have led to our current understanding of the aurora. And they'll find out that auroras are just the visible tip of the invisible phenomenon that's beginning to be known as "space weather." In a fast-paced hour-long program they'll see auroras from orbit and from Earth's surface, marvel at never-before broadcast visualizations and images created by some of America's leading researchers, and see sounding rocket scientists braving polar bears and sub-freezing temperatures to probe the aurora's many remaining mysteries.

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