Space physics and undergraduate education: Sins of omission



Ask the average undergraduate if he or she has heard of the Van Allen Belt, the magnetosphere, or the solar wind and most likely you will get a blank stare. On the other hand, ask the same about black holes, pulsars, or the big bang theory. Chances are you will get a positive response; moreover, they'll have some idea of what at least one of these objects is and may be happy to start a conversation on the subject.

Most students have heard of, or even seen, an aurora, but few have any idea of its source. This holds for most educated adults as well. At a beach party on the shore of Lake Superior last summer, I was besieged with questions about a bright aurora seen over the lake. I realized that there is no point in a traditional education where this aspect of nature is encountered.