New northern light observatory

Yesterday, a new observatory was opened on Svalbard, improving the studies of the northern light. Researchers from seven nations are using the new observatory.

20/02/2008 :: The Kjell Henriksen Observatory was officially opened by minister Aasland yesterday during a ceremony in front of the observatory, situated 500 metres above sea level on the Breinosa mountain outside Longyearbyen. The observatory is part of the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS). 70 guests from all over the world, including the Swedish astronaut Christer Fuglesang, joined the minister and UNIS in the celebration of the new northern lights observatory.

– As part of our High North Strategy, the government aims to develop Svalbard as an international research platform. The new Kjell Henriksen Observatory will constitute an important contribution to the research infrastructure on Svalbard, says Norwegian Minister of Research and Higher education, Tora Aasland.

16 scientific organizations from seven nations are represented with instruments in the new observatory, among them the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, University College of London and the National Institute of Polar Research of Japan.

The Kjell Henriksen Observatory is situated on a mountain, 500 m over sea level. Photo: Olli Jokiaho

The new observatory will for example facilitate the collection of data which may improve scientists’ understanding of the interaction between solar winds and the Earth’s magnetic fields, and of the effects this may have on the climate.

Svalbard has a unique location for research on the daytime northern light, as it is placed under the magnetic polar cusp. Studies of this phenomenon was the background for the establishment of the first northern lights observatory in 1978, where cooperation with international partners was developed. The station was moved to the Advent Valley and expanded in 1984. Over the years, light pollution from Longyearbyen, which affects the light-sensitive optical instruments, became an increasing problem.

– The International Polar Year 2007-2008 is a huge international research effort of great importance to the northern region, as well as to global challenges. Norway plays an active role, and this forms part of the follow up of the Government’s High North strategy, says Aasland.

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Aurora Borealis captured outside the city of Tromsø, northern Norway. Photo:  Bjørnar G. Hansen, VISIT TROMSØ