The Internet can be a useful tool for bringing people closer to nature from the comfort of their computer screen, wherever that computer monitor might be perched. Now a web cam will stream video of the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) from Yellowknife.
It's a strange concept, enjoying the wonders of real-time live nature through the internet via remote cameras set up just so people can watch without ever having to leave home. The live-streaming real-time technology, however, allows tourists to "visit" ecologically sensitive areas without causing damage, thus helping to protect the environment. Not to mention that remote viewing allows those curious enough to learn about what they are watching.
When webcams first came into being, there were concerns about privacy and voyerism. Some of those issues still exist, particularly when webcams are associated with human-to-human interactions over the internet. But, set up cameras so that people can view aspects of nature, and watchers can see things they might otherwise never have the opportunity to access.
Armchair travelling via internet web cams allow people to visit the pandas at the San Diego Zoo, or to watch eagles nesting in British Columbia. Or if one is inclined, one can see footage of an African leopard strolling through the night.
Now a partnership between the Canada Space Agency, University of Calgary, the city of Yellowknife and Astronomy North, launched in 2009, will allow viewers around the world to watch the Northern Lights in real time, beginning Monday night.
Last year, the Canada Space Agency described the AuroraMAX project as "... an online observatory and outreach project that will feature live broadcast of the northern lights from Yellowknife. This collaborative venture aims to increase an understanding of the aurora both locally and nationally."
At the time, Mayor of Yellowknife, Gordon van Tighem said ]"Yellowknife has long been the greatest aurora viewing destination in the world, and our community appreciates the opportunity to showcase our spectacular skies using this technology. AuroraMAX is much more than just an online observatory, it's an invitation to come and see Yellowknife auroras for yourself."
More than that, however, the images captured from the video cameras not only be shared with the public at large, but with scientists around the world.
The University of Calgary issued a press release Monday to announce the live streaming. The live-viewing capability is promising, project personnel explained, because "The launch of AuroraMAX coincides with the beginning of aurora watching season in northern Canada, which generally begins in late August or early September and ends in May. Aurora enthusiasts will be able to follow AuroraMAX through solar maximum, the most active period of the Sun’s 11-year cycle, which should produce more frequent and intense auroras on Earth. Solar maximum is currently expected in 2013."
The press release went on to say physicist Eric Donovan, who works at the University of Calgary is leading a team which "... has developed and is operating the world’s foremost network of Auroral cameras and is providing the scientific and technical support for AuroraMAX."
The Canada Space Agency explained the eerie, dancing and colourful curtains of light that can be seen usually in more northern latitudes "... occur as charged particles from the sun collide with gases in Earth's upper atmosphere. Sunspots are a primary source of these particles, which is why the peak of the 11-year sunspot cycle (known as Solar Maximum) is met with high expectations in Yellowknife, a world-renowned Aurora viewing location."
Those wishing to experience the beautiful Aurora Borealis for themselves, without having to pay for the airfare, can watch via this link: asc-csa.gc.ca/eng/astronomy/auroramax/default.asp. The website, said the press release, will offer "... In addition to nightly broadcasts of the aurora, AuroraMAX will help demystify the science behind the phenomenon, offer tips for seeing and photographing auroras, and highlight Canadian research on the Sun-Earth relationship. The website will also include an image gallery with still photos and movies from previous nights."
People wishing to receive a tweeted alert about best viewing times for upcoming northern lights events can sign up with Astronomy North.