Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Study Finds Space Shuttle Exhaust Creates Night-Shining Clouds

04.06.2003


Exhaust from the main engines of NASA’s space shuttle, which is about 97 percent water vapor, can travel to the Arctic in the Earth’s thermosphere where it forms ice to create some of the Earth’s highest clouds that literally shine at night, according to a new study led by the Naval Research Laboratory and jointly funded by NASA and the Office of Naval Research.


This image shows the launch of space shuttle STS-85 on August 7, 1997. The orange external tank contains over 700 metric tons of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. The main effluent is water. The Stevens et al. results show evidence that this water was transported to the Arctic where it formed a vast region of polar mesospheric clouds covering an area about 10% of North America. Credit: NASA


Because of their high altitude, near the edge of space, noctilucent clouds shine at night when the Sun’s rays hit them from below while the lower atmosphere is bathed in darkness. They typically form in the cold, summer polar mesosphere and are made of water ice crystals. Credit: Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, D.C.



The thermosphere is the highest layer in our atmosphere, occupying the region above about 55 miles (88 kilometers) altitude. The clouds settle to 51 miles (82 km) altitude in the layer directly below called the mesosphere. The stratosphere and the troposphere lie in that order below the mesosphere.

Dr. Michael H. Stevens, the paper’s lead author and a research physicist at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, reports that exhaust from the shuttle and other launch vehicles may help explain how some of these mysterious clouds are formed. The paper appeared on Saturday (May 31) in Geophysical Research Letters.


Noctilucent clouds, sometimes called polar mesospheric clouds when observed from space, are too thin to be seen by the naked eye in broad daylight. However, they shine at night when the Sun’s rays hit them from below the horizon while the lower atmosphere is bathed in darkness. They typically form in the cold, summer polar mesosphere and are made of water ice particles.

The study uses data from the Naval Research Laboratory’s Middle Atmosphere High Resolution Spectrograph Investigation (MAHRSI) instrument, launched on the shuttle for eight days of observation in August, 1997. MAHRSI allowed scientists to follow the plume’s rapid pole-ward transport and then to observe a discrete region of ice clouds as it appeared in the Arctic near the end of the mission. Stevens and colleagues find that the water contained in these clouds is consistent with the amount injected into the thermosphere by the shuttle on its ascent off the east coast of the United States.

“This study is important because it shows that there is a new source of water ice for the polar upper atmosphere,” said Stevens, lead scientist for MAHRSI. “Our results indicate that the water vapor released by launch vehicles can end up in the Arctic mesosphere.”

About half of the water vapor exhaust from the shuttle’s main fuel tank is injected into the thermosphere, typically at altitudes of 64 to 71 miles (103 to 114 km). Stevens and colleagues found that this water vapor can then be transported all the way to the Arctic in a little over a day, much faster than predicted by models of atmospheric winds. There is currently no explanation for why the water moves so quickly.

Stevens and colleagues also include observations from a ground-based experiment in Norway measuring water vapor moving toward the Arctic Circle. These observations reveal the passage of a large plume of water vapor overhead a little over a day after the same (STS-85) shuttle launch, confirming the plume trajectory inferred from the MAHRSI measurements.

As the water vapor moves to the Arctic it falls from the warmer thermosphere down to colder areas in the mesosphere. Over the North Pole in the summer mesospheric temperatures can plummet below minus 220 Fahrenheit (minus 140 Celsius), the lowest found in the Earth’s atmosphere. At these temperatures, water vapor condenses into ice particles and clouds form.

“The amount of water found here is tiny compared to the amount in the lower atmosphere,” Stevens said. “But the long term effects in the upper atmosphere have yet to be studied.”

The Office of Naval Research and NASA’s Office of Space Science funded the study.

Krishna Ramanujan | NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Further information:
http://www.gsfc.nasa.gov/topstory/2003/0522shuttleshine.html

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht NASA sees the end of ex-Tropical Cyclone 02W
21.04.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht New research unlocks forests' potential in climate change mitigation
21.04.2017 | Clemson University

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

Im Focus: Quantum-physical Model System

Computer-assisted methods aid Heidelberg physicists in reproducing experiment with ultracold atoms

Two researchers at Heidelberg University have developed a model system that enables a better understanding of the processes in a quantum-physical experiment...

Im Focus: Glacier bacteria’s contribution to carbon cycling

Glaciers might seem rather inhospitable environments. However, they are home to a diverse and vibrant microbial community. It’s becoming increasingly clear that they play a bigger role in the carbon cycle than previously thought.

A new study, now published in the journal Nature Geoscience, shows how microbial communities in melting glaciers contribute to the Earth’s carbon cycle, a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

New quantum liquid crystals may play role in future of computers

21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A promising target for kidney fibrosis

21.04.2017 | Health and Medicine

Light rays from a supernova bent by the curvature of space-time around a galaxy

21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>