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Aurora color television project celebrates 20 years

Submitted by Amy Hartley
Phone: (907) 474-5823

08/23/04

A suitcase-size camera designed 20 years ago is still ahead of the game when it comes to capturing the beautiful colors and fluid motion of the aurora. Technology moves at a phenomenal rate, yet the camera designed with the aid of employees at the Geophysical Institute continues to outshine any competitors with its extreme low-light sensitivity. This special camera is the crux of the aurora color television project (ACTP), which has provided true-to-life images of the aurora to audiences around the world for two decades.

The proof of ACTP's success comes from the broad use of its images. Aurora captured by the ACTP camera have appeared in more than 190 feature films, were included in the Opening Ceremonies of the 1994 Olympic Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway and even found their way onto the popular children's program Sesame Street.

Since ACTP's creation, two videos have been produced. The first release came out in 1985. It was a self-titled video, featuring colorful auroral displays set to the music of Symphony in Ursa Major by former University of Alaska professor Gordon Wright. An educational-driven video, The Aurora Explained, came out in 1992, which coupled rippling aurora shots with explanations of how the phenomenon is created.

Typical film cameras use film with a sensitivity of ASA 25 to 1,000. The ACTP camera has an equivalent sensitivity of ASA 2,000,000, making it an optimum tool for capturing colorful moving images in the night sky.

The ACTP camera is still used on a campaign basis and currently resides at Poker Flat Research Range. In the future, its creators hope to compile the videos previously released onto one comprehensive DVD, which will be translated into other languages and include multiple formats for use around the world.

CONTACT: Dan Osborne, Senior Researcher and Project Engineer at the Geophysical Institute, at (907) 474-7107.