Got a Comment?


Autumn Aurora Short Writing Assignment

Type of Homework:

  • Writing Assignment

Brief description of the homework and its strengths:

Rewrite a newspaper article about the aurora so it is both scientifically accurate and accessible to a general audience. 


Type and level of course in which you would use this homework:

The course is an Introduction to Space Physics course for senior undergraduates and first year graduate students. The prerequisite for the class is upper-level Electromagnetism (i.e. first half of Griffiths E&M). 

Skills and concepts that students should have mastered before beginning the homework:

Before this assignment, the students have learned about the parts of the magnetosphere, the solar wind-magnetic field interaction. They have derived the formula for the superposition of IMF + Earth dipole magnetic field and then calculated the difference in energy for the South IMF + dipole vs. North IMF + dipole magnetic field. They have learned about magnetic reconnection and the dynamics of the auroral oval as observed from the ground. They have learned about the difference between the Current Disruption (CD) model for substorms vs. Near-Earth Neutral Line (NENL) model and the successes and problems with each model. 

How the homework is situated in its course

This assignment is a stand-alone exercise. The student also receive writing credit for taking the course and this is one of the two papers required by the university to receive the writing credit. 


This assignment requires students to explain in lay-terms how the aurora is generated in general, the fact that it tends to peak in intensity during Fall and Spring, and some of the current ideas as to the origin of the Fall and Spring intensification. The assignment requires the students to synthesis many pieces of information about the aurora into a single cohesive picture. The assignment also requires students to think about the concept of scientific jargon and how to avoid using it while still relaying information that is accurate. 


Major Factors: (Yes to all questions equals full credit)
Is the figure they chose to accompany the story correct?
Is the information that the students describe correct?
Did they not leave out any relevant/important information?
Do they not use jargon (i.e. words like "reconnection")?

Minor Factors: (Yes = no deduction of points)
Is grammar used correctly?
Are all the words spelled correctly?
Is the article interesting to read?

Supporting references and/or URLs

File Attachments

autumn_aurora_full.pdf   226 KB

Digital Object Identifier

Submitted By:

First Name:Erika
Last Name:Harnett
Institution:University of Washington