University of Oulu

Palmroth, M., Grandin, M., Helin, M., Koski, P., Oksanen, A., Glad, M. A., et al. (2020). Citizen scientists discover a new auroral form: Dunes provide insight into the upper atmosphere. AGU Advances, 1, e2019AV000133.

Citizen scientists discover a new auroral form : dunes provide insight into the upper atmosphere

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Author: Palmroth, M.1,2; Grandin, M.1; Helin, M.3;
Organizations: 1Department of Physics, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
2Space and Earth Observation Centre, Finnish Meteorological Institute, Helsinki, Finland
3Citizen Scientist, Finland
4Hankasalmi Observatory, Jyväskylän Sirius ry, Hankasalmi, Finland
5Taivaanvahti Service, Finnish Association of Amateur Astronomers (Ursa), Helsinki, Finland
6Sodankylä Geophysical Observatory, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 33.6 MB)
Persistent link:
Language: English
Published: American Geophysical Union, 2020
Publish Date: 2020-09-22


Auroral forms are like fingerprints linking optical features to physical phenomena in the near‐Earth space. While discovering new forms is rare, recently, scientists reported of citizens’ observations of STEVE, a pinkish optical manifestation of subauroral ionospheric drifts that were not thought to be visible to the naked eye. Here, we present a new auroral form named “the dunes”. On 7 October 2018, citizen observers took multiple digital photographs of the same dunes simultaneously from different locations in Finland and Sweden. We develop a triangulation method to analyze the photographs and conclude that the dunes are a monochromatic wave field with a wavelength of about 45 km within a thin layer at 100 km altitude. Supporting data suggest that the dunes manifest atmospheric waves, possibly mesospheric bores, which are rarely detected, and have not previously been observed via diffuse aurora nor at auroral latitudes and altitudes. The dunes present a new opportunity to investigate the coupling of the lower/middle atmosphere to the thermosphere and ionosphere. Our paper adds to the growing body of work that illustrates the value of citizen scientist images in carrying out quantitative analysis of optical phenomena, especially at small scales at subauroral latitudes. Further, the dune project presents means to create general interest toward physics, emphasizing that citizens can take part in scientific work by helping to uncover new phenomena.

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Series: AGU advances
ISSN: 2576-604X
ISSN-E: 2576-604X
ISSN-L: 2576-604X
Volume: 1
Issue: 1
Article number: e2019AV000133
DOI: 10.1029/2019AV000133
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 115 Astronomy and space science
Funding: Academy of Finland (Suomen Akatemia). Grant Numbers: 1312351, 1309937, 1314670; EC | H2020 | H2020 Priority Excellent Science | H2020 European Research Council (ERC). Grant Number: 682068-PRESTISSIMO.
Dataset Reference: GPS TEC data products and access through the Madrigal distributed data system are provided to the community ( by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) under support from US National Science Foundation Grant AGS‐1242204. Data for TEC processing are provided from the following organizations: UNAVCO, Scripps Orbit and Permanent Array Center, Institut Geographique National, France, International GNSS Service, The Crustal Dynamics Data Information System (CDDIS), National Geodetic Survey, Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística, RAMSAC CORS of Instituto Geográfico Nacional de la República Argentina, Arecibo Observatory, Low‐Latitude Ionospheric Sensor Network (LISN), Topcon Positioning Systems, Inc., Canadian High Arctic Ionospheric Network, Centro di Ricerche Sismologiche, Système d'Observation du Niveau des Eaux Littorales (SONEL), RENAG: REseau NAtional GPS permanent, GeoNet—The official source of geological hazard information for New Zealand, GNSS Reference Networks, Finnish Meteorological Institute, and SWEPOS‐Sweden. Access to these data is provided by madrigal network via this site ( The IMAGE data are available online ( We thank the institutes who maintain the IMAGE Magnetometer Array: Tromsø Geophysical Observatory of UiT the Arctic University of Norway (Norway), Finnish Meteorological Institute (Finland), Institute of Geophysics Polish Academy of Sciences (Poland), GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences (Germany), Geological Survey of Sweden (Sweden), Swedish Institute of Space Physics (Sweden), Sodankylä Geophysical Observatory of the University of Oulu (Finland), and Polar Geophysical Institute (Russia). The solar wind data and the geomagnetic indices were retrieved from OMNIweb (, as well as World Data Center for Geomagnetism, Kyoto (
Copyright information: © 2019. The Authors. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.