About the Project


ESA's Swarm mission was launched in the fall of 2013. Its primary objective is to untangle the mysteries of the Earth's magnetic field and electric currents in and above the Earth's surface. Three identical satellites orbit the Earth working as a team to map and monitor the magnetic fields and electric currents which envelope our planet and protect it. For the last three years, Swarm has been providing exciting new data collected in the topside ionosphere, where electric currents powered by the interaction between the solar wind and Earth's magnetic field produce magnetic fields that are signatures of a wide array of processes at work in the magnetospheric system. Working in concert, the three spacecraft which make up the Swarm constellation are providing the highest quality in-situ ionosphere electric and magnetic field measurements. This offers exciting opportunities for ground breaking studies of the aurora and geospace dynamics.


One of the most visible displays of the interaction between the Sun and the Earth's magnetic field cumulates in the form of the aurora. This dynamic display is the end result of charged particles colliding with atoms and molecules in the upper atmosphere. The conclusion of vast magnetospheric processes, the Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis, can be seen as a symphony of dynamic greens, reds, and even blues in the polar sky.


The launch of the Swarm constellation occurred during an exciting time for auroral science. Near-global networks of ground-based instruments are providing an unprecedented view of the multi-scale ionospheric consequences of geospace dynamics and magnetospheric-ionospheric coupling. This extensive network provides real time observations of the night sky aurora, providing a window into the dynamics of the near-space environment. For more than forty years, the University of Calgary has been a world leader in auroral observations. Today, with funding from the Canadian Space Agency, we operate the world's largest network of ground-based auroral imagers. This network consists of imagers of different types, including our full-color Rainbow All-Sky Imagers (ASIs). Rainbow ASIs produce millions of images every year.


The Swarm-Aurora project was designed to facilitated and drive the use of Swarm in auroral science and push Swarm beyond its primary mission objective to become a key instrument in auroral science research. The primary objective of Swarm-Aurora is to build a bridge between Swarm data, the Swarm science community, and optical images of the aurora collected primarily by ground-based All-Sky Imagers (ASIs).


Researchers must be able to easily identify Swarm overflights of ASIs that were capturing images of aurora of interest. As well, for each such overflight, it is in general necessary to relate the electric and magnetic fields observed by the satellite to the aurora structures and dynamics as captured by the ASI. The Swarm-Aurora project was developed to eliminate the uncertainty and drastically reduce the time needed to do a preliminary survey of Swarm and ground-based instruments for investigating auroral phenomena. In one environment, which can be downloaded onto a laptop or desktop computer therefore eliminating the need for an internet connection, it is possible to have years of data from many different observing missions in one place. Researchers will be able to quickly scan through years of data within minutes, quickly identifying events that meet their specific research goals.


Swarm B overflight of the Whitehorse THEMIS-ASI on April 12, 2014. The successive images shown are separated by one minute in time, contaminated in the west by light from the recently-set Sun, and show Patchy Pulsating Aurora, part of an Omega Band, and an Auroral Torch


Swarm-Aurora will carry out the groundwork necessary to enhance the value of Swarm an auroral research mission. Over 16 months, Swarm Aurora will:

  1. Bring a large fraction of the world's auroral imaging capacity to Swarm as efficiently as possible
  2. Enable researchers to identify scientifically valuable Swarm overflights of ASIs
  3. Enable users to utilize ASI data together with Swarm data
  4. Demonstrate the efficacy of the developed tools for addressing cutting edge science
  5. Engage auroral researchers in developing a roadmap for ongoing Swarm Aurora activity


Looking Forward and Our Vision


Looking forward, we hope to include ephemeris from more satellites such as GOES, LANL, and others, and some cursory summary data from some or all of those. As well, we hope to include auroral/airglow networks beyond the "first five". These should include imagers operated by SRI and Boston University, the Alaska Geophysics Institute, the Polar Research Institute of China, UNIS and the University of Oslo, IRFU, and the University of Nagoya. Furthermore, we hope to include photometer summary data and possibly riometer summary data.


A key objective is to have an effective research enabling tool. This means we are committed to providing a user experience that is as fast as possible. This means we will be keeping the summary data very light. Keep in mind, though, that we are in the age of Big Data, and we expect in the end that a day of summary data will be hundreds of MBytes.


To develop this browser, we have drawn on a lot of previous work, including the development of GAIA (gaia-vxo.org) by Emma Spanswick, Brian Jackel, Mikko Syrjaesuo, and Steve Marple, and the Cluster Ground-Based Working Group work carried out by Paul Eglitis, Kirsti Kauristie, Hermann Opgenoorth, and Mike Lockwood. We hope to develop an API to allow interleaving this effort with SuperMag, SuperDARN, and GAIA.