The Hub Innovation grant supports space-science research at AU

Innovation grant supports space-science research at AU

New grant funding from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI) will help purchase equipment to support Athabasca University’s ongoing collaborative space-science research.

Dr. Martin Connors has been awarded $38,061 from the CFI’s John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF), which is matched by an equal amount from the Government of Alberta’s Research Capacity Program and a $19,030 contribution from Athabasca University. The CFI made the announcement via a web update on Aug. 18.

He explained the funding will purchase Canadian-made equipment to measure electric fields related to auroras—more commonly known as the northern lights—that can negatively impact spacecraft as well as electrical grids on Earth.

Dr. Martin Connors working in a field while a piece of heavy equipment digs a trench next to him.
Dr. Martin Connors, pictured here at the Athabasca University Geophysical Observatory, has received an innovation grant to help purchase equipment to measure electric fields related to auroras—more commonly known as northern lights.

This builds on previous research done in collaboration with Hydro-Québec, the Canadian Space Agency, Natural Resources Canada, and collaborators from Japanese research institutions, at the Athabasca University Geophysical Observatory sites within Athabasca County and from a magnetic detection network AU developed in Québec.

Connors said this previous research has uncovered an interesting relationship between magnetic field changes and impulses in the electric grid. Specifically, these magnetic field changes cause electric fields, which in turn affect electric grids. This new funding will help purchase equipment to monitor those electric fields directly.

“We tested out some Canadian-made equipment over the winter to measure the electric field; we have measured the electric field from aurora-made pulsations, likely for the first time,” he said. “The JELF proposes to do just that, from both from our Athabasca site and from Saskatchewan.”

Connors said this research to measure the effects of aurora has broad implications for modern life. Auroras are caused by electrically charged particles colliding with gaseous particles in the Earth’s atmosphere, which can affect important electrical systems including telecommunications satellites in orbit and electric grids on the ground.

“With electric fields we can better characterize the waves than with just the magnetic fields we have had so far,” he said. “Athabasca turns out to be the ideal location for studying the waves, which is why we have had Japanese collaboration here for over 15 years.

This is not the first time Connors’ work, and AU’s space science work in general, have benefited 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 campus and the light pollution that comes in an urban environment, were also both made possible with the support of the CFI.

Read more about AU’s space-science work at the AUGO web page, or dive in to space science with undergraduate astronomy courses and start your educational journey today!

  • August 18, 2020