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A Terrella Device for Simulating Aurora-Like Phenomena in a Box


 A Terrella device was developed and setup in Trieste in 2006 to be used as an experimental training device during practicum sessions of the Advanced International School on Space Weather at ICTP. The Terrella consisted of a vacuum chamber, where an aluminum sphere with an embedded permanent magnet bar mimics the Earth (Terrella) and its magnetic field, and a system of electrodes is set to a high potential difference to generate an electron flow (particle wind) that ionizes the residual air around the sphere. This results in aurora-like glowing patterns whose geometry is dependent on the orientation and distance of the bar magnet, so that various configurations can be experimented. This Terrella device proved to be an effective tool not only for academic but also for outreach purposes. We will briefly present both applications, focusing in particular on the latter, and on the planned use for IHY EPO activities.

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Fig. 1






  • K. Birkeland, The Norwegian Aurora Polaris Expedition 1902-1903, Volume 1: On the Cause of Magnetic Storms and The Origin of Terrestrial Magnetism (H. Aschelhoug, Christiania, 1908)

  • T. Bruntland, The Birkeland Terrella. Spherae (Museum of the History of Science, Oxford, 1998),

  • J. Lilensten, C. Simon, M. Barthélemy, An outreach activity at the frontier of science: the Planeterrella. EPSC Abstracts, Vol. 2, EPSC2007-A-00163, European Planetary Science Congress (2007)

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This work was partially supported by the Italian Space Agency (ASI), the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF), the Trieste Division of the Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics (INFN) and the Department of Physics of the Trieste University.

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Correspondence to M. Messerotti.

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Messerotti, M., Baccomi, R., Iugovaz, D. et al. A Terrella Device for Simulating Aurora-Like Phenomena in a Box. Earth Moon Planet 104, 55–58 (2009).

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  • Terrella
  • Aurora
  • Solar–terrestrial relations
  • Heliosphere
  • International Heliophysical Year