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The Planeterrella, a pedagogic experiment in planetology and plasma physics


We present here a plasma physics experiment which makes it possible to simulate, in a naive yet useful way, the formation of polar lights. It involves shooting electrons at a magnetized sphere placed in a vacuum chamber. This experiment, inspired by K. Birkeland’s Terrella, built at the turn of 19th century, allows the visualization of very many geophysical and astrophysical situations. Although delicate, it is feasible at undergraduate level.

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Correspondence to Jean Lilensten.

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Lilensten, J., Barthélemy, M., Simon, C. et al. The Planeterrella, a pedagogic experiment in planetology and plasma physics. Acta Geophys. 57, 220–235 (2009).

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Key words

  • Aurora
  • planetary ionospheres
  • plasma
  • the Planeterrella experiment