The Hub AU Astronomy prof awarded innovation grant

AU Astronomy prof awarded innovation grant

The Athabasca University Geophysical Observatory (AUGO) may soon get a new piece of state-of-the-art equipment thanks to the innovative work of astronomy professor Dr. Martin Connors.

A $100,000 grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s (CFI) John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF) will help pay for specialized equipment to monitor a special type of auroras—also known as the northern lights—called proton auroras.

What’s innovative about this particular project is how he will use the equipment. Typically this type of magnetotelluric sensor (telluric meaning deep earth) is used to search underground for resources like minerals, oil, and gas.

“The novelty of this is that it’s almost exclusively used pointing downwards, and we’re pointing it upwards,” Connors said.

Dr. Martin Connors in front of a computer.

It’s also innovative because this equipment will allow him to study a different aspect of proton auroras than is typically studied.

“We’ve done lots of detections of these waves using magnetic detectors. What this will do is detect the waves using electrical fields, so the waves actually make an electrical field in the earth,” he said. “We’re trying to measure that, as far as I know for the first time.”

The potential application of this work is to increase understanding of how these waves work by getting a more complete picture—combining existing methods to study of magnetic fields with study of the electrical fields generated by proton aurora.

Connors said he is also interested in exploring a “hunch” about the potential impact of these proton auroras on satellites in orbit, and further study will help to either confirm or refute his suspicions.

“Going way out on a limb, I have in the back of my mind some ideas about how protons might affect satellites. It is usually considered that they don’t affect satellites,” he said. “I’d like to try to tie a few things together.”

This is not the first time Connors, and AU’s astronomy work in general, have benefitted from this type of grant. The AUGO, which is at Athabasca University’s main campus in Athabasca, and AUGO II, which is 40 km away from the light pollution that comes in an urban environment, were also both made possible with the support of the CFI.

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  • August 19, 2019