U-2 Spy Plane Pilot Flies through the AURORA BOREALIS at 70,000 ft.
Northern Lights Up Close
Special Thanks to Ross Franquemont
Electrical atmospheric storms “Aurora” can wreak havoc on satellites, power grids, and communications systems.
THEMIS mission identifies power behind Aurora – northern lights
BERKELEY The Study of the Aurora Borealis — A year and a half after the launch of a fleet of five satellites to probe storms in the Earth’s magnetic shield, scientists have accomplished the mission’s primary objective: to identify the mechanism that triggers substorms in space. (Aurora Borealis)
Consequently, “We discovered what makes the Aurora northern lights dance,” said Vassilis Angelopoulos of the University of California, Los Angeles, and principal investigator for the mission, called Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms (THEMIS).
More importantly, in a report published online July 24 in Science Express, UC Berkeley, UCLA and NASA scientists report that the event triggering substorms in the magnetosphere surrounding the Earth originate deep in the planet’s shadow, about a third of the way to the moon. There, magnetic field lines snap, reconnect and unleash a storm of energy that funnels to the poles and makes the atmosphere glow in reds and greens, called the Aurora Borealis.
Special Thanks to Ross Franquemont
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THROUGH THE HEAVENS
It all begins with spectacular views. Wondering what heaven looks like? Want to see what the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) look like up close? Ross Franquemont can show you. A rare moment, U-2 spy plane pilot by day and a photographer by night, Franquemont recently had the privilege of photographing the Aurora Borealis from his cockpit at 70,000 feet.
A true adventurer! Franquemont is a pilot and instructor based out of Beale Air Force Base, California, but days ago he was tasked with flying a mission out of the UK, and that’s when he managed to capture this series of beautiful images showing the green natural light display dancing overhead of the Aurora Borealis.
TRAVELING AT 500 MPH
The Lockheed U-2 plane that Franquemont flies is nicknamed “Dragon Lady.” It seats one person and can fly at 70,000 with a range of about 6,400 miles.
THE AURORA CHANGES SHAPE QUICKLY
“I had no idea how fast the aurora moved and changed,” Franquemont tells The Aviationist. “It danced around, changing shape several times a second. That made it a challenge for the photographer in a spacesuit sitting in shaking metal can moving 500 mph.”
WHAT IS THE AURORA BOREALIS
The bright dancing lights of the aurora are actually collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere. The lights are seen above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres. They are known as ‘Aurora borealis’ in the north and ‘Aurora australis’ in the south. Auroral displays appear in many colors although pale green and pink are the most common.
WHAT CAUSES THE NORTHERN LIGHTS?
The Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) are actually the result of collisions between gaseous particles in the Earth’s atmosphere with charged particles released from the sun’s atmosphere. Variations in color are due to the type of gas particles that are colliding. The most common auroral color, a pale yellowish-green, is produced by oxygen molecules located about 60 miles above the earth. Rare, all-red auroras are produced by high-altitude oxygen, at heights of up to 200 miles. Nitrogen produces blue or purplish-red aurora.
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