Tweets Help NASA To Track Aurora

By : |March 9, 2016 0

Aurorasaurus, founded by space weather scientist Liz Macdonald is helping NASA to track beautiful aurora in real time through tweets and mobile apps. Users of Aurorasaurus, a citizen science project that tracks auroras through its website, mobile apps and Twitter have documented some of the biggest and beautiful aurora displays in recent times.

Aurora, better known as Polar Light is an incredible light show featuring the geomagnetic storms. These storms are caused by collisions between electrically charged particles released from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere and collide with gases such as oxygen and nitrogen.

Though many satellites study the sun and near-earth space environment responsible for auroras, predicting precisely the location, time and capacity of the geomagnetic storm on Earth is challenging. It is because large geomagnetic storms occur randomly so scientists do not have as much data on them.



According to Liz MacDonald, “Using these observations, we can make better short-term predictions of when and where the aurora is for aurora enthusiasts and scientists.” Aurorasaurus can help provide more data points in the form of citizen science observations. Sky watchers can submit their aurora sightings directly to the website or use the free Aurorasaurus mobile apps.

After a certain number of users have reported aurora sightings in a local area or near the view-line, Aurorasaurus sends out notifications to nearby registered users. The project also searches Twitter using keywords to find aurora-related tweets. Users can then confirm or deny these crowd-sourced tweets. The submitted observations and verified tweets are displayed on a global map showing real-time auroral visibility.

After analyzing 500 citizen science aurora observations during March and April last year – encompassing one of the biggest geomagnetic storms of the past decade and several smaller storms – the team found that many people reported seeing the aurora further equatorward than the OVATION Prime model predicted.

“Without the citizen science observations, Aurorasaurus wouldn’t have been able to improve our models of where people can see the aurora,” said the study’s lead author, Nathan Case, a previous Aurorasaurus team member and now a senior research associate at Lancaster University, UK.

“The short-term vision for Aurorasaurus is to become an interactive hub for aurora enthusiasts at the intersection of citizens and science,” said MacDonald. “Long term, this engaged community can be sustained and evolve together and the tools can be expanded to be useful in other disciplines within our technological society.”


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