THEMIS Real Time Mosaic

THEMIS Real Time Mosaic

The THEMIS Canada team at the University of Calgary is playing a key role to support the THEMIS Real Time Mosaic, an online tool that provides Canadian scientists and skywatching enthusiasts alike with an unprecedented national picture of the aurora borealis in real time. Launched in 2007, the mosaic features a compilation of all-sky images from 20 ground-based observatories in Alaska, Canada and Greenland. Perfect for monitoring auroral activity during geomagnetic storms! (SAMPLE VIDEO)

SPOTLIGHT: Oh Canada! Coast-to-Coast Auroras in Real Time.

Oh Canada! Coast-to-Coast Auroras in Real Time.

Canada is the largest land mass under the auroral oval, so it’s no surprise that the University of Calgary has dedicated so much time and energy to auroral imaging and substorm research.

Since 2006, the THEMIS Canada team at the University of Calgary has been playing a key role to support THEMIS, an international mission to answer longstanding questions about the nature of geomagnetic substorms. Substorms are instabilities in the magnetosphere that abruptly and explosively release solar wind energy stored within the Earth’s magnetotail.

To launch the project, a collection of UofC scientists, imaging experts, programmers and technicians successfully deployed 16 ground-based observatories across Canada – many of them in remote northern locations. More observatories were installed in Alaska and Greenland by the University of Berkeley California, creating an unprecedented array of imagers, magnetometers and riometers that could simultaneously monitor Earth’s magnetic field and the visible aurora overhead.

With the observatories and imagers in place, THEMIS Canada was tasked with merging the data into a stunning real-time mosaic of the aurora from coast-to-coast. This would be the ultimate cross-country snapshot of Northern Lights above North America – no small task.

As night fell across Eastern Canada, the first wave of data poured into Calgary and was plotted on a map of North America. Suddenly, for the first time ever, Canada’s nighttime sky was being revealed coast to coast in real time, one observatory at a time. When midnight arrived in Alberta, all locations were in action and new snapshot of the THEMIS Real Time Mosaic was being added to the public domain every 12 seconds. Scientists and skywatchers alike could now watch all 20 observatories in real time on the web, and couldn’t wait for a coast to coast auroral formation – the trademark of a substorm event. Indeed, a new generation of auroral observation had begun.

Each morning UofC computers would generate a movie using hundreds of snapshots from the night before. Scientists could download these movies to study auroral formations and compare ground based data with data from the five THEMIS satellites launched in 2007 to monitor magnetic field activity that triggers substorms.

The work of the THEMIS Canada team was key to a sensational discovery in 2008, as data from the ground-based observatories in Canada was used to provide colourful evidence of the effects of magnetic reconnection on Earth’s magnetic field. It was this discovery that made THEMIS (Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms) one of the biggest success stories in the history of geomagnetic field research.

Today the University of Calgary continues to operate 15 of the original ground-based observatories in Canada, and the THEMIS Real Time Mosaic is still online, providing scientists and aurora enthusiasts with real time footage of geomagnetic storms and substorms as they erupt over Canada and the United States.

If staying up late isn’t your thing, don’t worry. The THEMIS Real Time Mosaic web page allows you to download a video of last night’s aurora, and has an archive of time-lapse movies dating back to 2007.

To learn more about Canada’s amazing contribution to THEMIS and night sky observation, check out the THEMIS Canada website.