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Athabasca University

Athabasca University Geophysical Observatory (AUGO)

Athabasca University’s highly successful subauroral observatory, located half a kilometer behind the main AU campus at Athabasca, Alberta.  AUGO conducts optical and magnetic studies of the aurora borealis, and has been host to NASA’s THEMIS ground based observatory – a continent wide network of auroral imagers constituting the ground segment of the groundbreaking THEMIS space mission.  Since it opened in 2002, AUGO has forged research collaborations from around the world: Canada, the United States, Japan, and Norway.  Encroaching urban development and associated light pollution has forced the decision to relocate optical imaging operations to a secluded rural location, 25 km southwest of the town of Athabasca.  This is the new, ambitious AUGO II subauroral observatory.

AUGO’s unique location and access to transportation and communication infrastructure is one of its strengths, and undoubtedly has led to its success.  Athabasca lies along the southern edge of the northern auroral aval, a several hundred kilometer wide swath of coverage encircling the north magnetic pole, where auroral substorm activity can be best seen.  This region spans as far north as Yellowknife, and stretches longitudinally from Alaska, across the northern half of the Canadian prairies, northern Quebec, then over the Atlantic, touching Greenland, Iceland, Scandinavia and Siberia.  Very few locations in this zone can boast access to paved highways, abundant and reliable utilities (electricity, gas, water), high capacity network bandwidth, less than 2 hour drive to a major international airport, and sufficiently dark skies to perform optical studies of the aurora.  AUGO II will share these advantages, but possess even darker night skies!

The current line up of experiments include a multispectral (including H-beta) all-sky imager and meridian scanning photon spectrometer from Nagoya University’s Solar Terrestrial Environment Laboratory (STELAB) and a corresponding 64 Hz induction magnetometer, used for proton precipitation and Pc1-band studies.  A Keo light-intensified multi-spectral all-sky imager (NORSTAR) is operated by Athabasca University and the University of Calgary (U of C).  U of C’s Department of Geomatics Engineering operates a GPS scintillation experiment. Tohoku University (Japan) operates a VLF/LF radio experiment used for upper atmosphere radiation belt studies.  AU operates a 1-Hz research-grade UCLA-built SMALL magnetometer for long term magnetic studies.  An ongoing AU testing program at AUGO continues to develop low cost teaching magnetometers suitable for schools and enthusiasts.

Updated September 06 2013 by AU Geophysical Observatory

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