Cool opening of the Kjell Henriksen Observatory

Cool opening of the Kjell Henriksen Observatory

Top image: Minister of Research and Higher Education, Ms. Tora Aasland, formally opened the aurora observatory KHO on 18 February 2008. Photo: Eva Therese Jenssen/UNIS.

The opening of UNIS’ brand new aurora observatory was celebrated over two days in Longyearbyen. On Monday afternoon the Minister of Research and Higher Education officially opened the Kjell Henriksen Observatory, in minus 35 degrees Celsius up on Breinosa.

20 February 2008
Text and photos: Eva Therese Jenssen

The Aurora Borealis did not make an appearance Monday evening as over 50 people were gathered in front of the entrance of the Kjell Henriksen Observatory (KHO). A full moon and a light snow drizzle prevented the guests from seeing the spectacular phenomenon. However it did not put a damper on the atmosphere among the crowd.

Despite that the thermometer showed a chilly minus 35 degrees Celsius, the guests could warm themselves on small bonfires and enjoy hot toddy while the official opening ceremony took place, where the director of Statsbygg, Øyvind Christoffersen, handed over the symbolic key to the Norwegian Minister of Research and Higher Education, Tora Aasland.

Opening of KHO

Over 50 people gathered in minus 35°C to participate in the opening of KHO. Photo: Eva Therese Jenssen/UNIS.

Important IPY goal
– The International Polar Year 2007-2008 is a huge international research effort of great importance to the northern region, as well as to global challenges. When the new observatory was planned, the goal was to have it ready for the Polar Year. I am very pleased that this goal was reached, said Aasland in her opening address.

The minister then handed the key over to Kjell Sælen, chairman of the UNIS board, before astronaut Christer Fuglesang, together with the widow of Kjell Henriksen, Randi Henriksen, opened the door to KHO, inviting the guests into the warmth of the observatory.

Monitoring the atmosphere
Inside the guests were showed around the modern observatory, which enables UNIS’ scientists to monitor the sun, the atmosphere and the Aurora 24/7. The observatory has a total floor area of 780 m2.

In addition to UNIS, there are 16 research organizations from 7 countries that have their instruments at the observatory, among them The University of Alaska-Fairbanks, University College London and the National Institute of Polar Research of Japan. The observatory is located close to the other space research installations EISCAT, SPEAR and SOUSY.

If, with time, there is need to have more space for scientific equipment, there is already a 370 m2 platform in place for future extensions. Due to the unpredictable weather conditions 500 meters up on the mountain, the observatory has two bedrooms where scientists can sleep over if Mother Nature decides to bring on a blizzard.

Dag Lorentzen, Tora Assland, Per Sefland

Associate professor Dag Lorentzen guides Minister Tora Aasland and Governor of Svalbard, Per Sefland, around in the new observatory. Photo: Eva Therese Jenssen/UNIS.

Tomorrow’s scientists show
On Tuesday morning, UNIS invited to a special Aurora seminar, where scientists from Norway and abroad talked about the importance of space and aurora research. The seminar guests also got a chance to see tomorrow’s scientists in action. A local kindergarten has been inspired by the Aurora and the children, age 1-5, have made their own Aurora show, which they presented for the minister and the guests.

Now with the official opening of KHO over, the UNIS Aurora scientists look forward to work on this season’s aurora data, to bring us one step closer in understanding the sun, the Aurora and the Earth’s atmosphere.

Children's aurora dance

Children from a local kindergarten performed their own Aurora show for the Minister and guests at UNIS on Tuesday 19 February. Photo: Eva Therese Jenssen/UNIS.

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