Lights, camera, action: Yellowknife to share aurora borealis with world

A camera being set up in Yellowknife this year will allow people around the world to see the northern lights without having to leave home.

Ever wanted to see the northern lights, without having to travel north? A camera being set up in Yellowknife will allow people around the world to catch the phenomenon unfold online.

The Canadian Space Agency is teaming up with partners in Yellowknife and Calgary to set up a camera that will capture images of the aurora borealis and put those images on a website.

The space agency is working with the City of Yellowknife, Astronomy North and the University of Calgary on the five-year AuroraMax project.

"It shares our sky with people who may have never known our sky was this spectacular," James Pugsley, president of Astronomy North, told reporters in the N.W.T. capital Wednesday.

"Part of the outreach will be saying to Canada and Canadians and people around the world is that this is what we see when we go outside at night."

A specially designed camera will capture images of the northern lights several times a minute. Those images will then be broadcast on a website, in real time.

The AuroraMax project is being set up in time for scientists to watch the solar maximum, the period in which the northern lights are expected to be more frequent and active. The solar maximum is expected to take place in 2012.

The solar maximum marks the peak of sunspot activity during the 11-year solar cycle. The bright aurora displays occur when sunspots release bursts of solar wind from the sun's surface, then charged particles from those sunspots collide with gases in the Earth's upper atmosphere.

Researchers like Eric Donovan, a space physicist at the University of Calgary, will use the aurora pictures to make better sense of the relationship between sunspots and the northern lights.

Donovan, who led the team that created the AuroraMax camera, said putting so many images of the northern lights on the internet could also create research opportunities for young, aspiring scientists.

"We'll have some material that says, 'Look for this ... and if you find this, then tell us.' And this could be something where a Grade 8 student could end up being involved in writing a scientific publication," Donovan said.

The AuroraMax camera and accompanying website are expected to be up and running by fall.