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Kristian Olaf Bernhard Birkeland was a Norwegian scientist. He is best remembered as the person who first elucidated the nature of the Aurora borealis. In order to fund his research on the aurorae, he invented the electromagnetic cannon and the Birkeland-Eyde process of fixing nitrogen from the air. Birkeland was nominated for the Nobel Prize seven times.

Birkeland's vision of what are now known as Birkeland currents became the source of a controversy that continued for over half a century, because their existence could not be confirmed from ground-based measurements alone. His theory was disputed and ridiculed at the time as a fringe theory by mainstream scientists, most notoriously by the eminent British geophysicist and mathematician Sydney Chapman who argued the mainstream view that currents could not cross the vacuum of space and therefore the currents had to be generated by the Earth. Birkeland's theory of the aurora continued to be dismissed by mainstream astrophysicists after his death in 1917. It was notably championed by the Swedish plasma scientist Hannes Alfvén, but Alfvén's work in turn was also disputed by Chapman.

Proof of Birkeland's theory of the aurora only came in 1967 after a probe was sent into space. The crucial results were obtained from U.S. Navy satellite 1963-38C, launched in 1963 and carrying a magnetometer above the ionosphere. Magnetic disturbances were observed on nearly every pass over the high-latitude regions of the Earth. These were originally interpreted as hydromagnetic waves, but on later analysis it was realized that they were due to field-aligned or Birkeland currents.

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Kristian Olaf Bernhard Birkeland was a Norwegian scientist. He is best remembered as the person who first elucidated the nature of the Aurora borealis. In order to fund his research on the aurorae, he invented the electromagnetic cannon and the Birkeland-Eyde process of fixing nitrogen from the air. Birkeland was nominated for the Nobel Prize seven times.

Birkeland's vision of what are now known as Birkeland currents became the source of a controversy that continued for over half a century, because their existence could not be confirmed from ground-based measurements alone. His theory was disputed and ridiculed at the time as a fringe theory by mainstream scientists, most notoriously by the eminent British geophysicist and mathematician Sydney Chapman who argued the mainstream view that currents could not cross the vacuum of space and therefore the currents had to be generated by the Earth. Birkeland's theory of the aurora continued to be dismissed by mainstream astrophysicists after his death in 1917. It was notably championed by the Swedish plasma scientist Hannes Alfvén, but Alfvén's work in turn was also disputed by Chapman.

Proof of Birkeland's theory of the aurora only came in 1967 after a probe was sent into space. The crucial results were obtained from U.S. Navy satellite 1963-38C, launched in 1963 and carrying a magnetometer above the ionosphere. Magnetic disturbances were observed on nearly every pass over the high-latitude regions of the Earth. These were originally interpreted as hydromagnetic waves, but on later analysis it was realized that they were due to field-aligned or Birkeland currents. More...

 
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