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The Beauty of the Aurora

“I started out when I was an undergraduate at UCLA. I was in the Weather Department, which is now Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, and as a freshman I was exposed to upper atmospheric studies. That’s when I learned about the aurora. At my first job in Boulder, I met someone who launched rockets into the aurora and I have used the aurora in my scientific research ever since. I worked with a variety of people. For the past 15 years I worked with a colleague who, after listening to one of his talks, I thought he was really interesting. I wondered why there was a high level Japanese scientist that I didn’t know. I met him again five or six months later and I found out he was a student. After talking to him, I got him to come to UCLA from Japan to work with me.

The aurora is like a big ‘box TV’. Aurora lights up about 100 to 300 km, and it results from energetic electrons from the earth’s magnetic field. The big box on a TV shoots electrons at the screen and when they hit the right stuff, the material on the screen gives a frequency of light which can give you a nice color picture. The earth’s magnetic field does the same thing. The energetic electrons hit the upper atmosphere, and when they relax they release their light. The processes that make the electrons form the aurora. It forms a 2D picture as a function of time, making a ‘2D movie’ with respect to the particles. It doesn’t matter if it’s the aurora or something else, but if you can see or identify a phenomena that hasn’t been identified and you understand why it works, it gives motivation to keep studying and teaching.”

P.S. Los Angeles,

“One of the cool things about science is that you can work with people from all over the world. You can go to dinner after a conference and realize you’re all from different countries. You all work together in a very common way.”

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