Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

UNH scientists launch NASA rocket into Aurora

22.02.2012
With the full sky shimmering in green aurora, Saturday night (Feb. 18, 2012) a team of scientists, including space physicist Marc Lessard and graduate students from the University of New Hampshire's Space Science Center, launched an instrument-laden, two-stage sounding rocket from the Poker Flat Research Range in Fairbanks, Alaska. The precision measurements from the rocket's instruments will shed new light on the physical processes that create the northern lights and further our understanding of the complex sun-Earth connection.

Funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Magnetosphere-Ionosphere Coupling in the Alfvén resonator (MICA) mission sent a 40-foot Terrier-Black Brant rocket arcing through aurora 186 miles above Earth. The rocket sent a stream of real-time data back before landing some 200 miles downrange shortly after the launch.

Instruments onboard, including those built at UNH, sampled electric and magnetic fields as well as charged particles in Earth's upper atmosphere (ionosphere) that get sloshed back and forth by a specific form of electromagnetic energy known as Alfvén waves. These waves are thought to be a key driver of "discrete" aurora – the typical, well-defined band of shimmering lights about six miles thick and stretching east to west from horizon to horizon.

The mission involves collaborators from Cornell University, Dartmouth College, the Southwest Research Institute, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and the University of Oslo.

According to Lessard, an associate professor at the UNH Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space (EOS) and department of physics, the Alfvén resonator is a structure in the ionosphere that acts like a guitar string when "plucked" by energy delivered by the solar wind to Earth's magnetosphere high above.

"The ionosphere, some 62 miles up, is one end of the guitar string and there's another structure over a thousand miles up in space that is the other end of the string. When it gets plucked by incoming energy we can get a fundamental frequency and other 'harmonics' along the background magnetic field sitting above the ionosphere," Lessard says.

The Alfvén resonator is a narrow, confined area of space – a channel that is perhaps several hundreds of miles tall but only six miles wide. It is hypothesized that energy from the sun accelerates a beam of electrons producing aurora and also increasing the overall electrical conductivity within the channel. Understanding how the ionosphere participates in providing the downward current is a critical component of understanding magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling.

"The process turns on an auroral arc and then these waves develop on both sides of the resonator moving up and down. That's the theory and it appears to be valid, but there's never been any really good measurement of the process in action. That's what MICA is all about," Lessard says.

MICA will provide insight into these wave-driven aurora specifically, but Lessard notes there are other types of aurora that are initiated by different processes and these, too, were investigated at ground-based stations during the MICA launch by scientists, including Allison Jaynes and Ian Cohen, both Ph.D. students working with Lessard in the Magnetosphere-Ionosphere Research Laboratory at EOS.

UNH has a rich history of sounding rocket development and launches dating back to the early 1960s. As Lessard notes, rocket work is ideal training ground for graduate students, as it was for him at UNH, because, unlike satellite missions, rocket missions generally offer "soup to nuts" involvement from design, construction, launch, and data analysis. Rockets also offer relatively quick and inexpensive access to space compared to satellite missions.

As for the significance of continued investigation into auroral processes, Lessard notes, "It's all about understanding how the energy of the solar wind gets coupled to Earth's magnetic field and eventually gets dumped into the our upper atmosphere."

The University of New Hampshire, founded in 1866, is a world-class public research university with the feel of a New England liberal arts college. A land, sea, and space-grant university, UNH is the state's flagship public institution, enrolling 12,200 undergraduate and 2,300 graduate students.

Photographs to download:

http://www.eos.unh.edu/newsimage/mica1_lg.jpg

http://www.eos.unh.edu/newsimage/mica2_lg.jpg

Captions: A two-stage Terrier-Black Brant rocket arced through aurora 200 miles above Earth as the Magnetosphere-Ionosphere Coupling in the Alfvén resonator (MICA) mission investigated the underlying physics of the northern lights. Stage one of the rocket has just separated and is seen falling back to Earth. Photo by Terry E. Zaperach, NASA.

A fisheye photo taken by an automated camera near the entrance gate at the Poker Flat Research Range in Fairbanks, Alaska. Photo by Donald Hampton.

David Sims | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.unh.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Gamma rays will reach beyond the limits of light
23.10.2017 | Chalmers University of Technology

nachricht Creation of coherent states in molecules by incoherent electrons
23.10.2017 | Tata Institute of Fundamental Research

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Salmonella as a tumour medication

HZI researchers developed a bacterial strain that can be used in cancer therapy

Salmonellae are dangerous pathogens that enter the body via contaminated food and can cause severe infections. But these bacteria are also known to target...

Im Focus: Neutron star merger directly observed for the first time

University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event

On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...

Im Focus: Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging

Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.

Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....

Im Focus: Smart sensors for efficient processes

Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).

When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...

Im Focus: Cold molecules on collision course

Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.

How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

3rd Symposium on Driving Simulation

23.10.2017 | Event News

ASEAN Member States discuss the future role of renewable energy

17.10.2017 | Event News

World Health Summit 2017: International experts set the course for the future of Global Health

10.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Microfluidics probe 'cholesterol' of the oil industry

23.10.2017 | Life Sciences

Gamma rays will reach beyond the limits of light

23.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

The end of pneumonia? New vaccine offers hope

23.10.2017 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>