Science series starts with auroras

University's free science presentations come to Juneau for the first time

Posted: Monday, February 04, 2002

When the northern lights are shimmering above Juneau, they're also dancing beneath watchful eyes that study the aurora from space.

Orbiting satellites transmit moving and still images of the aurora, and Alaska is a center for study of the northern lights. Tonight, physicist Roger Smith, director of the University of Alaska Geophysical Institute, will offer a free presentation on watching the aurora from Earth and from space.

His PowerPoint presentation will include video and still images of Earth's aurora, and images of auroras on Jupiter and Saturn captured by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Smith's presentation at 7:30 tonight in Centennial Hall is the first of four by Alaska scientists.

On Feb. 11 biologist Jennifer Burns of the University of Alaska Anchorage will present "Diving for Dinner: How Seals Survive Underwater." Seals are able to hold their breath for more than 30 minutes and hunt in complete darkness more than a quarter-mile deep in the ocean. Burns will show slides of seals and sea lions and describe how they forage and hunt.

The largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century was the two-day event in the summer of 1912 that created the Valley of 10,000 Smokes in Alaska. Ash more than 500 feet deep fills the valley. On Feb. 18, Fairbanks volcanologist John Eichelberger will present vintage film and slides and talk about the birth of the valley and the massive eruption that created the Alaska moonscape.

Satellites have proved to be a remarkable resource for studying the wide-ranging caribou of Alaska, and on Feb. 25 biologist Brad Griffith will give a multimedia presentation on Alaska caribou, including the Porcupine herd.

All presentations are at 7:30 in Centennial Hall and are free. The series is sponsored through a cooperative arrangement between the University of Alaska system and the Alaska Science and Technology Foundation.

Scott Foster of the University of Alaska Southeast said the series started several years ago in Fairbanks and then expanded to include presentations in Anchorage. This is the first year Juneau has been included, and Foster said the hope is that Juneau-based scientists will also be included in future presentations.

"This is a great opportunity for a different kind of entertainment," Foster said. "It's the university at its best."

Riley Woodford can be reached at

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