Exploring the Northern Lights: Alaska Aurora Expedition Coverage

Researchers prepare to launch a balloon toward Alaska's northern lights on April 12, 2012.
Researchers prepare to launch an instrument-laden weather balloon toward Alaska's aurora on April 12, 2012 (at right is a radar facility). (Image credit: Luke Kilpatrick)

A team of scientists has finished launching instrument-laden weather balloons to the edge of Alaska's dazzling northern lights, but the researchers still have a lot of work ahead of them.

Project Aether: Aurora was a two-week expedition that ran through April 15, when the team had to head back home. The researchers lofted nearly two dozen balloons in an effort to learn more about the northern lights (also known as the aurora borealis), test out equipment and — aided by high-definition aurora videos taken 19 miles (30 kilometers) up in the atmosphere — help inspire students around the world to pursue studies in science, technology, engineering and math.

SPACE.com reporter Mike Wall tagged along with Project Aether: Aurora for a few days, reporting from central Alaska from April 10-12. He's back now, but he's not done writing stories about the trip:

Thursday, April 19

Alaska Northern Lights Expedition Wants Your Help to Find Balloons   
If you retrieve one of their fallen balloon payloads, scientists with Project Aether: Aurora will let you keep the GoPro camera — as long as you send in the SD memory card and GPS device.

Wednesday, April 18

Alaska's Dazzling Northern Lights: A Reporter's View  
SPACE.com reporter Mike Wall got to tag along with an expedition that studied Alaska's northern lights. Here are his thoughts about the experience.

Monday, April 16

Alaska Expedition Launches Cameras to Edge of Northern Lights   
An expedition that's launching weather balloons to the edge of Alaska's northern lights took advantage of a dazzling aurora display early Thursday morning (April 12).

A Snowshoe Trek to See Alaska's Northern Lights: A Reporter's Journey  
SPACE.com reporter Mike Wall accompanied researchers on a snowshoe trek to retrieve a weather balloon that had risen to the very edge of Alaska's northern lights.

Mike's Alaska Dispatch for Wed., April 11

Team members fill the weather balloon with helium early in the morning of April 11, 2012, most of the way up Alaska's Murphy Dome mountain. (Image credit: Mike Wall/SPACE.com)

Tuesday was a busy and very memorable day. I spent some time with the researchers at their rented house outside of Fairbanks, learning about the project and watching them prepare for a balloon launch that night. Then a few of us drove up nearby Murphy Dome to scout out potential launch sites.

We found a suitable open, flat spot, then returned with a couple of balloons around midnight. While the science team prepped their gear, the rest of us gawked at what shaped up to be a spectacular northern lights display. Green light arced above us, then danced in shimmering curtains that held hints of red and yellow.

The Project Aether: Aurora team launched their two balloons--one of which carried a SPACE.com T-shirt-- up toward the aurora, and we headed down the mountain, cold, tired and spellbound,  around three in the morning.

Today should be fun, too, full of dog sledding, snowshoeing and more aurora watching. I'll tell you how it goes!

Follow SPACE.com's complete coverage of the expedition in this story archive:

Wednesday, April 11

Photo Journal: Northern Lights Expedition, a Reporter's-Eye View
See the northern lights of Alaska through the lens of SPACE.com reporter Mike Wall during Project Aether: Aurora in April 2012.

Tuesday, April 10

Northern Lights, Ho! SPACE.com Reporter Tags Along with Aurora Expedition
I've seen the northern lights just once, on a trip to Alaska with my dad nearly 20 years ago. Now I'm back in The Land of the Midnight Sun for a better, and much closer, look at this stunning atmospheric phenomenon.

Alaska Expedition to Study Northern Lights from the Inside
A team of scientists is lofting weather balloons high into Alaska's northern lights displays, getting a unique inside look at this dazzling atmospheric phenomenon.


You can follow SPACE.com senior writer Mike Wall on Twitter: @michaeldwall. Follow SPACE.com for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.