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Local Schools Learn the Physics of the Northern Lights

Wednesday, 06 October 2010

Dr Jim Wild of the Physics Department of the University of Lancaster returned to Bolton School to help Year 11 pupils and Sixth Form students from across the borough understand "The Physics of the Northern Lights".

The Ogden Trust Physics Lecture was organised by the Girls' Division Able and Talented Programme and physics students from Bolton School Boys' Division and Girls' Division, were joined by pupils from Ladybridge, Canon Slade, Harper Green, Thornleigh Salesian, Balshaw's CE High, Rivington and Mount Carmel RC. Dr Wild spoke to the pupils for 50 minutes, focusing on the physics behind the occurrence of the aurora borealis (otherwise known as the Northern Lights), after which they had a chance for question and answer and an informal chat about physics and the lecture over a buffet.

Dr Wild gave students an insight into the dancing lights which are visible, to varying degrees, from the ice-caps to the Mediterranean but it is over the Arctic Circle (and Antarctica) where they can be seen most often.  Legend tells that the lights are anything from the gods playing football to the spirits of young women who died before they got married, but it was the equally impressive scientific explanation that Dr Wild explained to the students - which begins with the sun. During large explosions and flares, huge quantities of particles are thrown out of the sun and into deep space and when the particles meet the Earth's magnetic shield they are led towards a circle around the magnetic North Pole where they interact with the upper layers of the atmosphere. The energy which is then released is the northern lights.

Dr Wild graduated with a degree in Physics with Space Science and Technology before completing a doctorate in solar-terrestrial physics at the University of Leicester. He is now a lecturer in the Space Plasma Environment and Radio Science Group in Lancaster University's Department of Communication Systems. His research investigates the physics behind the Northern Lights, the impact of space weather on human technology and the interaction between the Martian atmosphere and the interplanetary environment.

This is the second time Dr Wild has visited the School this year as he also gave a lecture entitled "In Search of the Northern Lights" to Bolton School Sixth Form pupils in July.

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Dr Jim Wild and pupils from local schools

Dr Jim Wild with some of the physics students who enjoyed his 'Physics of the Northern Lights' lecture

Northern Lights

The impressive Northern Lights