How can you artificially create aurora?

It depends on how accurate you want the simulation to be. Aurora are proeduced when currents of electrons carrying about 1,000 volts impact atoms of oxygen and nitrogen at low density. Unless you have the necessary technology, this level of accurate reproduction is probably beyond what you can do. However, there are several things that operate on roughly the same physical principles. FLuorescent lights involve the electronic excitation of a gas in a tube, causing the atoms to 'fluoresce' in much the same way that aurora do, but using different gases. Neon signs also use this same principle and involve a kilovolt transformer providing the current to stimulate neon atoms to emit specific atomic lines of light. Also, to simulate the way that plasmas behave, you can use those neat toys you find at various science stores at your local shopping mall. They are called 'plasma spheres' and are also a good simulation of both the electrodynamics and the atomic physics of auroral processes. Finally, because currents of electrons have changing patterns as they strike the Earth's atmosphere to produce aurora, you can use your TV! The electron gun directs a beam of electrons onto the phosphor screen of the TV tube. This is similar to the way that the beams of electrons in the magnetic field of the Earth can be steared in complex ways to 'draw' aurora on the atmosphere of the Earth.


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All answers are provided by Dr. Sten Odenwald (Raytheon STX) for the
NASA IMAGE/POETRY project.