Canadian Space Agency
St. Hubert, Quebec

Canadian Rocket Blasted Into Northern Lights

Poker Flat, Alaska, February 26, 2000 -- The Canadian Space Agency's GEODESIC experiment was successfully launched into the Earth's upper atmosphere today from Poker Flat, Alaska, marking over 160 years of continued Canadian scientific research into the mysteries of the Northern Lights.

A 20-metre, four-stage Black Brant-12 rocket was sent 1,000 km up through space allowing the GEODESIC instrument to conduct its experiments on the Northern Lights before impacting into the Beaufort Sea. The entire flight took approximately 17 minutes to complete.

The Canadian instrument examined small pockets of energy in the Earth's upper atmosphere where the Northern Lights are found. These pockets can reach temperatures of over one million degrees Celsius, although the reason they exist is still unknown to scientists. Fluctuations in the Northern Lights are believed to have caused widespread power outages on Earth and disruptions of orbiting satellites.

Dr. David Knudsen from the University of Calgary is heading up the mission's scientific team. Both the GEODESIC payload and the rocket it was launched on were built by Bristol Aerospace of Winnipeg, under the direction of the Canadian Space Agency's Space Science Program. The rocket also carried instruments funded by NASA to measure electromagnetic fields and energetic charged particles. The scientific data collected by the flight will be analyzed by scientists at the University of Calgary, the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and Aerospace Corp. of California.

The Canadian Space Agency is committed to leading the development and application of space knowledge for the benefit of Canadians and humanity. It manages and co-ordinates all of Canada's space activities and promotes the Canadian space industry among international partners.



(Geoelectrodynamics and Electro-Optical Detection of Electron and Suprathermal Ion Currents)

The GEODESIC project is designed to discover how energy that creates the Northern Lights heats the Earth's upper atmosphere. To the naked eye, the area between the earth's upper atmosphere and the moon may appear to be empty, but it is actually filled with a gas made up of charged particles. For some reason, this gas directs energy from the sun into narrow tube-like pockets, some as small as 50 metres across. These pockets are instrumental in creating the beautiful displays observed from the ground. These tiny tubes of gas are heated to approximately one million degrees Celsius. GEODESIC will first detect these small, hard to find pockets of energy with two separate sensors and then make a full range of measurements of their characteristics.

GEODESIC also has a secondary technological goal, which is to test the advantages of state-of-the-art optical equipment for detecting charged particles in space.


The fact that these energy pockets have similar shapes and sizes allows them to be treated as repeatable "experiments", allowing scientists to begin to narrow down the reasons as to why they are so hot. GEODESIC should also help in understanding why these energy pockets even exist, which still remains a mystery. Repeatable patterns are difficult to find, but once identified they become important scientific tools.


Dr. David Knudsen from the University of Calgary is heading up the scientific team. The results of GEODESIC's findings will be analyzed at the University of Calgary, the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and Aerospace Corp. The rocket vehicle and payload support systems are supplied by Bristol Aerospace Ltd. of Winnipeg. Both the GEODESIC instrument and rocket were funded by the Canadian Space Agency's Space Science Program.

GEODESIC is being launched from the NASA facilities at Poker Flat, Alaska, which was made possible through the involvement of the NASA-sponsored co-investigators. GEODESIC will be launched into the auroral zone and will reach an altitude of nearly 1000 km above the Earth's surface. Ground-based measurements will be made by scientists from the University of Calgary, Dartmouth College and the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.


GEODESIC will use technology developed at the University of Calgary for past missions to examine the Earth's upper atmosphere. GEODESIC will carry two sensors mounted on one-meter-long booms in order to avoid interference from the rocket itself. The images they produce will be transmitted via fibre-optics to a box in the main payload. In this way, the imaging sensor heads can be small and light (200 g), while the actual image detectors can remain protected inside the main instrument box. GEODESIC will be able to produce 100 images each second, or one every 10 m or so along the rocket's trajectory.

The measurements gathered by GEODESIC will address major scientific questions relating to the formation of the Northern Lights. The mission is aimed at taking a closer look at these important phenomena with improved electro-optical instruments at the same time as testing the usefulness of these instruments for a variety of future scientific missions.


Canadian scientists have been attempting to unravel the mysteries of the Northern Lights for over 160 years, starting with Sir Edward Sabine's establishment of the first magnetic observatory at the University of Toronto in 1839. Their continued research helps us to better understand the effects fluctuations in the Earth's magnetic field have on us, which have included a nine-hour power outage across Quebec in 1989 and a Canada-wide communications disruption when the Anik satellites were disabled in 1994. By looking at what is occurring in the Earth's upper atmosphere, the GEODESIC mission can provide us with a small sample of similar events happening throughout the rest of the universe since related phenomena have been observed on other planets.

Back to ASTRONET's home page
Terug naar ASTRONET's home page