Stunning Auroras Photographed in 3D with Everyday Cameras

Three-dimensional movies of the northern lights have now been captured using digital cameras one might find in any camera store.

These images suggest even amateur photographers could help scientists uncover secrets about how auroras work, the researchers who took the photos say.

The auroras — also called the northern and southern lights — are born when streams of charged particles from the sun, called the solar wind, collide with the Earth's magnetic field. Fast-moving electrons from space can then slam into oxygen and nitrogen atoms in Earth's upper atmosphere, generating coruscating displays of light.

Movie inspiration

After working on a 3D movie for a planetarium, space scientist Ryuho Kataoka at the National Institute of Polar Research in Tokyo came up with an idea to capture 3D images of auroras. [Watch the aurora video]

The new technique relies on two digital single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras that behave much like a pair of eyes do. When people look at an object, the images captured by the left and right eyes differ slightly from each other due to the distance separating them, and when they are combined, they give the brain the illusion of 3D.

The gap separating the eyes is small, just about 2 inches (5 centimeters) or so, meaning the 3D effect only works for people gazing at objects that are relatively close. Since auroras extend between about 55 and 240 miles (90 and 400 kilometers) in altitude, a much larger gap between cameras is needed to see auroras in 3D — to capture the northern lights, Kataoka and his colleagues placed cameras about 5 miles (8 km) apart across the Chatanika area of Alaska.

The cameras, equipped with fish-eye lenses and GPS units, photographed two simultaneous all-sky images. The scientists then combined these to create the first 3D photograph of auroras using digital SLRs.

Cheap technique

These 3D images helped the researchers determine the height at which electrons in the atmosphere emerge to cause auroras.

"From the emission altitude of an aurora, we can calculate back the energy of electrons precipitating from space," Kataoka told LiveScience's OurAmazingPlanet. "The principle is simple: More energetic electrons can penetrate into denser atmosphere — that is, lower altitude." This, in turn, could help investigators learn more about the mechanisms underlying auroras.

Scientists have previously created 3D images of auroras with the aid of arrays of ground-based research stations. In comparison, this new technique is cheap and opens the door for citizen scientists to get involved with research on auroras. The high resolution of modern digital SLRs also could help investigators detect especially high-energy spots within auroras, researchers added.

"I am thinking of developing a website with a submission system to collect many interesting photographs from night-sky photographers over the world via the Internet," Kataoka said in a statement.

The scientists detailed their findings Sept. 6 in the journal Annales Geophysicae.

Follow OurAmazingPlanet @OAPlanet, Facebook and Google+. Original article at LiveScience's OurAmazingPlanet.

Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Loading...

Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • FBI confirms death of top militant in bloody Philippine raid
    FBI confirms death of top militant in bloody Philippine raid

    The FBI confirmed on Thursday that a senior Malaysian militant with a $5-million reward on his head was killed in a January raid in the Philippines that also left 44 police commandos dead. The confirmation provides some validation for the botched raid that plunged President Benigno Aquino's administration into crisis and jeopardised efforts to end a decades-long Muslim separatist insurgency. "After a thorough review of forensic data and information obtained from our Philippine law enforcement …

  • Micronesians appeal for help after devastating typhoon
    Micronesians appeal for help after devastating typhoon

    Residents in storm wrecked areas of Micronesia appealed for help on Thursday as a clean-up began on the worst affected islands after Super Typhoon Maysak swept through the region on its way towards the Philippines. "We can do with all the help we can get," Courtney Stinnett at the Truk Stop Hotel dive shop on the main island of Weno in Chuuk state told AFP. A state of emergency has been declared in Chuuk, the largest region in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) where five people were …

  • Super typhoon weakens after entering Philippines

    MANILA, Philippines (AP) — A super typhoon blamed for the deaths of at least four people on islands in the western Pacific Ocean has weakened after reaching Philippine waters and is expected to further lose strength as it approaches the country's northeastern coast, officials said Thursday. …

  • From Space, Typhoon Maysak's Eye Looks Like a Black Hole (Photo)
    From Space, Typhoon Maysak's Eye Looks Like a Black Hole (Photo)

    It seemed like a black hole from a Sci-Fi movie," NASA astronaut Terry Virts wrote on Twitter. Virts and his fellow astronauts have been posting pictures of the typhoon, which is expected to hit the Philippines this weekend if it doesn't change course. "Commands respect even from space," wrote Samantha Cristoforetti, an Italian astronaut with the European Space Agency who launched into space with Virts in November. As of 11 a.m. EdT today (1500 GMT), the super typhoon was 223 miles (359 km) …

  • Muslim group calls for universal peace
    Muslim group calls for universal peace

    As predominantly Catholic Philippines and the rest of the Christian world observe the Holy Week, peace advocates like the Young Muslim Professionals Network (YMPN) are appealing to Filipinos of various creeds and persuasion to embrace the universal message of kindness, love and peace. The group issued the call as peace negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front teeter due to the Mamasapano incident where members of the rebel group killed 44 police commandos on a …

  • Ex-WB exec pushes BBL passage
    Ex-WB exec pushes BBL passage

    A former World Bank official has warned of dire consequences for the Philippines if the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is not passed into law. Nigel Roberts, former director on conflict, security and development, said that more conflict could occur without the BBL. “It takes about 15 years to get back to pre-conflict GDP growth rates, and 20 years for trade to recover,” Roberts said in his blog at the World Bank website. The World Bank estimated that economic losses amounted to $10 …

  • Despite typhoon, summer is here
    Despite typhoon, summer is here

    Super Typhoon Chedeng roared toward Luzon as the weather bureau announced the official start of summer in the country yesterday. The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) announced yesterday the official start of the dry or summer season in the country due to the termination of the cold northeast monsoon. “The general public is advised to take precautionary measures to minimize heat stress and take note of the need in optimizing the daily use of …

  • Noy told: Just answer the questions
    Noy told: Just answer the questions

    Just answer the 20 questions. The Makabayan bloc of seven party-list representatives made this appeal to President Aquino yesterday after his spokesman claimed the Chief Executive has already answered most of the questions posed by the militant lawmakers regarding the Mamasapano incident. For instance, he said the President has not yet explained why he allowed then suspended Philippine National Police chief Director General Alan Purisima to take the lead in Oplan Exodus or the mission to …

POLL

Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Loading...
Poll Choice Options