The AuroraMAX Online Observatory and the International Space Station (ISS) are on a quest to capture the Northern Lights from Earth and space as part of a new pilot project to compare and share images and videos of Canada’s aurora.
ISS astronauts Don Pettit and Dan Burbank will be on standby for the next six weeks to photograph the Northern Lights for AuroraMAX, a public engagement initiative dedicated to promoting the science and the splendour of the aurora borealis. AuroraMAX is a collaboration between the University of Calgary, the City of Yellowknife, Astronomy North and the Canadian Space Agency, and features an online observatory that broadcasts the aurora live from Yellowknife.
When the forecast calls for active aurora, AuroraMAX alerts will be issued via Twitter and Facebook to invite skywatchers to view the auroras live online, while the astronauts on board the ISS photograph the aurora over Canada. After each session, the astronauts will beam their images back to Earth and within 48 hours, the public will be able to compare the imagery captured from Yellowknife with photos taken from the vantage point of space from the ISS.
Since the International Space Station orbits Earth at about 370 km in altitude-and the curtains of light stretch from around 100 km to well above 400 km-the pilot project will offer the public an astronaut’s eye view of the aurora. If the simultaneous Earth and space imagery is successful, the project might also shed light on some of the mysteries of this natural phenomenon, like why auroras form particular shapes.