In 1996, Canada placed a highly specialized camera, the auroral ultra-violet imager (UVAI), aboard the Russian satellite Interball-2 to study the aurora borealis. UVAI's mission was to take photos of the Arctic region to improve our understanding of space weather and the aurora borealis. Leroy Cogger of the University of Calgary's Institute for Space Research was in charge of the Canadian team that gathered and analyzed the ultraviolet images acquired by UVAI. The camera was built by Cal Corporation of Ottawa.
Interball-2 had an elliptical orbit some 20,000 km above the Earth, so scientists photographed the entire region where auroras occurred, rather than just part of it. And they were able to take photos even when the weather was bad.
Interball was a program of the Russian Space Agency, part of active international cooperation in the mid 90s. Its objective was to study the Sun's influence on magnetic phenomena around the Earth by observing the surrounding region of space.
There are many potential benefits in studying the northern lights. Space storms cause various problems: they can garble long-distance communications and damage orbiting satellites. Storms often cause heavy financial and technological losses. In 1994, a violent magnetic storm put Canada's Anik satellites out of commission for several days, cutting off information transmission to Canada's print and electronic media. In 1989, a magnetic storm caused a massive power outage that plunged Quebec into darkness for several hours.