Imagine what kind of spectacular show it would be like to fly into the heart of the Northern Lights. You may not have to imagine forever. Richard Branson has been busy thinking up new ways to get people excited about private space tourism, and he’s come up with something pretty spectacular. He’s offering to fly the affluent into the world’s biggest lightshow, the Aurora Borealis.
The New Mexico Virgin Galactic Spaceport isn’t scheduled for completion until 2010, but Branson is already planning his next project from an Arctic launchpad located in the far north of Sweden in the small town of Kiruna. The Arctic location provides the town with unrivalled views of the spectacular phenomenon.
The aurora borealis is named after the Roman goddess of the dawn, Aurora, and the Greek name for north wind, Boreas. It often appears as a greenish glow with hints of red and purple. The green and red emissions come from atomic oxygen. Molecular nitrogen and nitrogen ions produce some of the low level red and very high blue /violet aurorae. The lights most often occur from September to October and from March to April.
The Auroras are produced by the collision of charged particles from the magnetosphere, with atoms and molecules of the Earth’s upper atmosphere. The particles originate from the sun and arrive at the vicinity of earth in the relatively low-energy solar wind. Magnetic reconnection accelerates the particles towards earth.
Kiruna already has an existing base called Esrange. Launching humans into an active aurora is more for excitement than science, but it has been deemed to be safe. Dr Olle Norberg, Esrange’s director, said they’ve done the research. “Is there a build-up of charge on the spacecraft? What is the radiation dose that you would receive? Those studies came out saying it is safe to do this.”
Safe, and undoubtedly an incredible view.
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