John Coxon, a space plasma physicist at the University of Southampton, spends most of his day thinking about how the Sun and the Earth’s magnetic fields interact. It is this interaction between our planet and our nearest star that leads to the Northern Lights, or the aurora borealis, in the night sky. When John isn't doing research, he’s the project leader on the Southampton Planeterrella.
The Southampton Planeterrella is an exhibit which produces a miniature version of the northern lights, also known as the aurora. It is an STFC-funded project through a public engagement grant.
John said: “The Southampton Planeterrella is a fantastic way to bring the Northern Lights to festivals and classrooms. Most people have never had the chance to see this spectacular natural light show, so we can bring the aurora to them!”
“The aurora is caused by tiny particles colliding with each other 100 kilometres above the ground – they collide so quickly they give off the light that we see in the sky, and that’s when we get the Northern (and Southern) lights. When they collide with satellites they can cause huge damage, and their movements also cause electric currents which can cause power cuts and telephone dropouts. We research this at Southampton, so it’s great to take the planeterrella out and tell people about our work.”
If you’re interested in seeing the Southampton Planeterrella, you can follow it on Twitter at @planeterrella or on Facebook, or visit the Southampton Planeterrella website.
For more information on STFC’s public engagement grants and how you can apply, see our public engagement grants page
Last updated: 05 June 2019