We may not be able to catch lightning in a bottle, but NASA Langley research scientist Guillame Gronoff is working on encapsulating the various light shows that go on in our atmosphere and other planets. Having built a large glass dome known as Planeterrella with his summer intern Sam Walker (from Letourneau University in Texas), the scientist recreates visual spectacles like an Aurora Borealis.
The illuminated simulations are made possible with a few key components—a magnetic field, charged particles, and a sphere—which allow it to be used as a learning mechanism. Gronoff says of his machine, "The Planeterrella allows us to create analogies with existing processes, like the aurora at Mars, which do not have a global magnetic field, but several localized magnetic fields, or Uranus and Neptune, when the magnetic fields of those planets point towards the Sun." He adds, "The Planeterrella can help teach students about solar wind, how electrically charged particles follow the magnetic field and the exciting space missions NASA is launching to space to study these processes."
The Planeterrella will be on display at the Virginia Air and Space Center in the coming months. There are also plans to construct a second machine to share with local classrooms.
Top photo © Guillaume Gronoff
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