INTERBALL-2: Capturing the aurora borealis with UVAI

Launch: August 29, 1996
Status: Inactive


In 1996, Canada placed a highly specialized camera, the auroral ultra-violet imager ((UVAI)), aboard the Russian satellite Interball-2 to study the aurora borealis. UVAI's mission was to take photos of the Arctic region to improve our understanding of space weather and the aurora borealis. Leroy Cogger of the University of Calgary's Institute for Space Research was in charge of the Canadian team that gathered and analyzed the ultraviolet images acquired by UVAI. The camera was built by Cal Corporation of Ottawa.

Interball-2 had an elliptical orbit some 20,000 km above the Earth, so scientists photographed the entire region where auroras occurred, rather than just part of it. And they were able to take photos even when the weather was bad.

Interball was a program of the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos), part of active international cooperation in the mid 90s. Its objective was to study the Sun's influence on magnetic phenomena around the Earth by observing the surrounding region of space.

There are many potential benefits in studying the northern lights. Space storms cause various problems: they can garble long-distance communications and damage orbiting satellites. Storms often cause heavy financial and technological losses. In 1994, a violent magnetic storm put Canada's Anik satellites out of commission for several days, cutting off information transmission to Canada's print and electronic media. In 1989, a magnetic storm caused a massive power outage that plunged Quebec into darkness for several hours.

Larger image magnetic storm.

A magnetic storm over Northern Canada and Greenland. This figure shows the relative fields of view of the two cameras of UVAI. By superimposing the images, we get a scaled view of the storm and the whole auroral oval.
(Credit : Greg Enno, University of Calgary)


Graphic images expressing some of the data collected by UVAI. The scientists can analyze them and compare them with other images.
(Credit : Greg Enno, University of Calgary)

Larger image showing auroras and magnetic storms over northern Canada.

Composite image of the Northern Lights oval with a magnetic space storm over northern Canada. The inset was photographed on March 1, 1997. It has been colour-coded to show the intensity of the aurora.
(Credit : Greg Enno, University of Calgary)