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:
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!
Studying fundamental particles in materials
17.01.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Struktur und Dynamik der Materie
Seeing the quantum future... literally
16.01.2017 | University of Sydney
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...
At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).
Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...
Many pathogens use certain sugar compounds from their host to help conceal themselves against the immune system. Scientists at the University of Bonn have now, in cooperation with researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom, analyzed the dynamics of a bacterial molecule that is involved in this process. They demonstrate that the protein grabs onto the sugar molecule with a Pac Man-like chewing motion and holds it until it can be used. Their results could help design therapeutics that could make the protein poorer at grabbing and holding and hence compromise the pathogen in the host. The study has now been published in “Biophysical Journal”.
The cells of the mouth, nose and intestinal mucosa produce large quantities of a chemical called sialic acid. Many bacteria possess a special transport system...
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
05.01.2017 | Event News
17.01.2017 | Earth Sciences
17.01.2017 | Materials Sciences
17.01.2017 | Architecture and Construction