A significant consequence of the solar-terrestrial interaction is the magnetosphere, a plasma (ionized gas) filled cavity carved out of the solar wind by the Earth's magnetic field. Within the magnetosphere, electrons and protons are accelerated to large energies by a host of plasma processes. Their motion is dominated by the magnetic field, and many are lost to the atmosphere, “precipitating” down along magnetic field lines in the polar regions. This precipitation deposits energy, is the direct cause of the aurora, and modifies atmospheric properties (including those affecting radio wave propagation). The mechanisms responsible for, and structuring of, auroral precipitation are of great scientific interest.
Observations of the aurora and associated effects on radio wave
propagation provide a means of testing scientific models of the
precipitation mechanisms, remote sensing magnetospheric dynamics, and
better understanding the solar-terrestrial interaction.
The Sulphur Mountain Cosmic Ray Observatory (set up in 1957 for the International Geophysical Year) was one of the first Space Physics Group (SPG) research programs at the University of Calgary. Throughout the 1960s the scientific interests of the group motivated instrument development, building, and deployment on balloons and rockets, as well as some early ground-based optical work on the aurora. The dawn of the space age brought with it a series of four Canadian scientific satellites, one of which (ISIS-II) carried an SPG auroral photometer. This instrument delivered some of the first global images of the aurora and the very first global/seasonal observations of the E and F region airglow: these observations were landmark contributions to geospace and atmospheric research. ISIS led directly to scientific firsts and enormous international prestige for our group.
Space Physics has been listed as one of the University’s primary areas of internationally recognized scholarship and research in every visioning and self-assessment exercise UofC has carried out. That excellence was acknowledged at the University level with the formation of the UofC Institute for Space Research in 1989 and later at the national level when Cogger was successful in establishing the UofC led Canadian Network for Space Research which was one of the first group of NSERC NCEs. ISIS-II was followed by UV imagers on the Swedish Viking and Freja spacecraft, and the Russian Interball probe. Images from these instruments have graced the covers of textbooks and journals, and provided the observational basis for major scientific advances. They also provided contextual information for hundreds of other studies.
Images from the Freja Satellite
Our group designed and deployed the first CCD based ground-based auroral imager, and has followed that up with a tremendously successful ground-based observational program that has involved campaign style work such as the Portable Auroral Imager, and every optical program element of the CSA sponsored CANOPUS, NORSTAR, and Canadian GeoSpace Monitoring (CGSM) programs. We are world-leaders in auroral observations and auroral plasma physics.