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University’s leading role in space weather research on display at Rothney open house

Observatory event Nov. 9 to feature discussions on satellites CASSIOPE and Swarm
November 6, 2013
The Enigma of Space Weather open house will be held Saturday, Nov. 9, from 8-11 p.m. at the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory just southwest of Calgary.

The Enigma of Space Weather open house will be held Saturday, Nov. 9, from 8-11 p.m. at the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory just southwest of Calgary.

The Rothney Astrophysical Observatory (RAO) will open its doors to the public on Nov. 9 for a look into space and a discussion about space weather through the eyes of two satellites, CASSIOPE and Swarm.

Aside from producing the aurora borealis and aurora australis — the northern and southern lights — intricate space weather patterns generate large electrical currents in the upper atmosphere that can have a potentially devastating impact on radio communications, GPS navigation, and other space-based technologies.

CASSIOPE, which launched into space on Sept. 29, 2013, has a total of eight scientific instruments collecting new data on space storms and associated plasma outflows in the upper atmosphere. A team from the Department of Physics and Astronomy led the development of the Enhanced Polar Outflow Probe (e-POP) part of CASSIOPE.

Greg Enno, the e-POP technical leader with the university’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, will give a presentation about e-POP and space weather. “I’ll go over what space storms are and how they affect us on Earth as well as how the university is studying space weather with our instruments both on the ground and in space, including using the CASSIOPE Satellite, which was launched last month.”

The Swarm mission, which is set to launch on Nov. 22 from Russia, will include Canadian Electric Field Instruments aboard each of the mission's three satellites.

Led by the European Space Agency, Swarm's goal is to better understand Earth's magnetic field and its interaction with the solar wind, which results in up to a thousand-billion Watts of electrical power being dumped into the upper atmosphere globally.

David Knudsen, professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and project lead for the university on Swarm, will share insight on what the Swarm mission will achieve and how the Canadian instruments operate. “Most people don't realize that the University of Calgary has been responsible for more than 20 instruments launched into space over the past 40 years, and has been a pioneer in the use of digital camera (CCD) technology for scientific observations of the aurora.  We have developed CCD-based detector technology further to measure charged particles in space; Swarm and e-POP will provide the first demonstration of this new technique in orbit."  

In addition to Enno’s and Knudsen’s presentations, the RAO’s open house event will offer guests access to a computer controlled telescope with imaging detectors, a solar filtered telescope and the 1.8 metre A. R. Cross Telescope — one of the biggest telescopes in Canada. “If the sky is clear we will have the telescope operating and several astronomers on hand,” says Jennifer Howse, the education specialist at the RAO. “So here’s your chance to talk to an astronomer to answer all your burning astronomical questions.”

Located just south of Calgary, the RAO also invites open house guests to partake in a scavenger hunt, fun games for older kids, and provided the sky is clear, an opportunity to look through a telescope at objects far out in space. The evening is best suited to children eight and up.

For complete event details, visit:

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