This project is building a Planeterrella at the Virginia Air and Space Center - the first such device in the US, and will use it to show and explain the basics of the formation of planetary aurorae to a variety of audiences.
The Planeterrella, an evolution of Birkeland's Terrella, is a vacuum chamber where an electric current is applied between two magnetized spheres. The resulting discharge creates glowing plasma that follows the magnetic field lines. The overall effect is an easily visible emission of light, which simulates the auroral oval at the Earth. Such an apparatus will bolster the local E/PO activities in Heliophysics for all education levels:
1. For children: discovery of the notion of an aurora, and of solar wind energy and flux.
2. For high-school students: study of the notion of plasma, fluorescence and interaction of energy with matter.
3. For undergraduate students: plasma physics and spectroscopy.
4. And post-graduate: complex plasma interaction between magnetized spheres and simulation of auroral emissions for other planets.
Virginia Air and Space Center
Effectiveness and Impact:
Survey and focus group instruments have been developed for initial use this summer and fall.
Device hardware now in final construction; public events will begin later this summer.