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The Planeterrella experiment: from individual initiative to networking

Abstract : Space weather is a relatively new discipline, which is still largely unknown amongst the wider public despite its increasing importance in all of our daily lives. Outreach activities can promote awareness of space weather. In particular the visual beauty and excitement of the aurora make these lights a wonderful inspirational hook to enhance understanding of space weather in a general audience. A century ago, the Norwegian experimental physicist Kristian Birkeland, one of the founding fathers of modern space science, demonstrated with his Terrella experiment the formation of the aurora. Recently, a modernized version of the Terrella has been designed. This ''Planeterrella'' experiment allows the visualization of many phenomena that occur in our space environment. Although the Planeterrella was originally a local project, it has developed to become a very successful international public outreach experiment. We believe that its success is due to mainly two factors (i) the Planeterrella is not patented and the plans are free to any public institute and (ii) the project is widely advertised using national and European scientific networks such as COST ES 0803, as well as press releases, books and web sites. Today, seven Planeterrellas are in operation, four more are under construction in four different countries and several more are being planned. During the last five years, about 50 000 people in Europe have attended live Planeterrella demonstration on the formation of auroral light, the space environment and space weather. Many more have seen the Planeterrella being demonstrated on TV. The Planeterrella received the first international prize for outreach activities from the Europlanet Framework 7 program in 2010 and the French Ministry of Science outreach prize ''Le goût des sciences'' in November 2012. This paper describes the process that led to the construction of the first Planeterrella and discusses how the Planeterrella project developed to become an international public outreach phenomenon. We also examine some of the lessons learnt along the way.
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Jean Lilensten, Gabrielle Provan, Sandrine Grimald, Asgeir Brekke, Erwin Flueckiger, et al.. The Planeterrella experiment: from individual initiative to networking. Journal of Space Weather and Space Climate, EDP sciences, 2013, 3, pp.A07. ⟨10.1051/swsc/2013029⟩. ⟨insu-03113749⟩

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