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I'm doing a Sciene fair project on the northern lights. Do you know if there are any expiriments that a 6th grader can do relating to Aurora Borealis?
Question Date: 2007-03-26
Answer 1:

I don't know what a science fair is or how much time you have for your project, or how far you can travel. You need to be able to observe the Aurora, which can be done from California but only under exceptional circumstances, so I don't think it's possible for a 6th grader because I doubt that you have a car and can drive to northern Canada or Alaska where you can see it. You also can't control the northern lights, so experiments are out of the question - but observations aren't.

So, if you are living in Alaska, or have the option of going there for this project, what I might suggest is this: get a pair of binoculars and use it during the day to focus the sun's light on a sheet of paper to the point where you can clearly see a sharply-defined disk - the image of the sun. Make sure you are wearing strong sunglasses while you are doing this, and the paper isn't very light! Also, do not look at the sun through the binoculars, etc. You will notice little dark spots on the sun's disk in the image on the paper. Count them, and note their size. The following night, watch the Aurora and note its intensity and characteristics. Repeat this for a month or so. The Aurora is caused by high-energy particles from the sun that are created when the sun is active, and a more active sun has more sunspots, so you would predict that the Aurora should be strongest a few days after the times with the most sunspots, because that's about how long it takes for the solar wind to reach Earth.

Answer 2:

It is difficult to do so, because it requires some things that might be beyond what a 6th grader can do.However, the mechanism by which aurora works is due to fluorescence. This can be demonstrated easily with a fluorescent light. Charged particles excite gas molecules and cause them to give off different colors of light. Then you just have to explain that the fluorescent light has different types of gases that make the overall color white. However, aurora has the concentrations of gas that are in our atmosphere, which produces all the different types of colors that we see. If you can find a fluorescent lights with different colors as well, that's an even better thing to show.

Answer 3:

This is a tricky question.

It is possible to recreate the aurora borealis in a tube, but you need a vacuum chamber.
click here

So that might be too difficult to set up!

But you could still learn about the northern lights and do an experiment with magnets. One interesting project that is pretty easy is to put a magnet on a piece of paper, then put a compass next to it. The compass will point in the direction of the magnetic field. You can draw an arrow showing which way the compass points, then move the compass and draw another arrow, until you've figured out which way the magnetic field goes, all the way around the magnet.

You can connect these arrows into drawings that look like this:click here

Now that you've seen the magnetic field of a bar magnet, you can learn about the Earth as a magnet, and how the solar wind affects its magnetic field. click here

You can also learn more with the magnet.

If you hold your compass on the table without a magnet anywhere nearby, the compass will point towards the north pole of the earth.What happens when you have a magnet sort of near the compass, but not right next to the compass?

You can also investigate what happens when you put another magnet on the table.

I hope that helps!

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