The visible green line of the aurora is about 100 to 120 kilometres above Earth, Hampton says. The rockets will soar well beyond that — up to 300 to 400 kilometres or more, as high as the International Space Station. They will take photos and measure particle and electrical fields, among many other things. Hampton says it’s important to study the aurora because solar particles can cause electrical chaos and expand the atmosphere, disrupting communications on Earth — including GPS navigation, radio and television — and even throw off satellite orbits.
“The aurora creates a lot ionization in our upper atmosphere,” he says.
But do the rockets’ cameras get a good view as they zoom up through the aurora?
“If you fly above and look back down, you see a mirror image of what you see from the ground and it’s pretty nice,” Hampton says. “But in the middle of the aurora? It’s not very exciting.”
Check the Alaska Geophysical Institute’s aurora forecast at www.gi.Alaska.edu and click on “Aurora Forecast.”