NASA & NSF create unprecedented view of upper atmosphere

Looking at atmospheric disturbances during space storms

Scientists from NASA and the National Science Foundation discovered a way to combine ground and space observations to create an unprecedented view of upper atmosphere disturbances during space storms.

Large, global-scale disturbances resemble weather cold fronts. They form in the Earth’s electrified upper atmosphere during space storms. The disturbances result from plumes of electrified plasma that form in the ionosphere. When the plasma plumes pass overhead, they impede low and high frequency radio communications and delay Global Positioning System navigation signals.

“Previously, they seemed like random events,” said John Foster, associate director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Haystack Observatory. He is principal investigator of the Foundation supported Millstone Hill Observatory, Wesford, Mass.

“People knew there was a space storm that must have disrupted their system, but they had no idea why,” said Tony Mannucci, group supervisor of Ionospheric and Atmospheric Remote Sensing at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “Now we know it’s not just chaos; there is cause and effect. We are beginning to put together the full picture, which will ultimately let us predict space storms.”

Predicting space weather is a primary goal of the National Space Weather Program involving NASA, the foundation and several other federal agencies. The view researchers created allowed them to link movement of the plumes to processes that release plasma into space. “Discovering this link is like discovering the movement of cold fronts is responsible for sudden thunderstorms,” said Jerry Goldstein, principal scientist at the Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio.

Since the occurrence of plasma plumes in the ionosphere disrupts GPS signals, they provide a continuous monitor of these disturbances. Researchers discovered a link between GPS data and satellite images of the plasmasphere. The plasmasphere is a plasma cloud surrounding Earth above the ionosphere. It is being observed from NASA’s Imager for Magnetopause to Aurora Global Exploration satellite. The researchers discovered the motion of the ionospheric plumes corresponded to the ejection of plasma from the plasmasphere during space storms.

The combined observations allowed construction of an underlying picture of the processes during space storms, when the Earth’s magnetic field is buffeted by hot plasma from the sun. As the solar plasma blows by, it generates an electric field that is transmitted to the plasmasphere and ionosphere. This electric field propels the ionospheric and the plasmaspheric plasma out into space. For the first time, scientists can directly connect the plasma observed in the ionosphere with the plasmasphere plumes that extend many thousand of kilometers into space.

“We also know these disturbances occur most often between noon and dusk, and between mid to high latitudes, due to the global structure of the electric and magnetic fields during space storms,” said Anthea Coster of the Haystack Observatory. “Ground and space based, and in situ measurements are allowing scientists to understand the ionosphere-thermosphere-magnetosphere as a coupled system.”

The plumes degrade GPS signals in two primary ways. First, they cause position error by time delaying the propagation of GPS signals. Second, the turbulence they generate causes receivers to lose the signal through an effect known as scintillation. It is similar to the apparent twinkling of stars caused by atmospheric turbulence.

Media Contact

Bill Steigerwald EurekAlert!

More Information:

http://www.nasa.gov

All latest news from the category: Physics and Astronomy

This area deals with the fundamental laws and building blocks of nature and how they interact, the properties and the behavior of matter, and research into space and time and their structures.

innovations-report provides in-depth reports and articles on subjects such as astrophysics, laser technologies, nuclear, quantum, particle and solid-state physics, nanotechnologies, planetary research and findings (Mars, Venus) and developments related to the Hubble Telescope.

Back to home

Comments (0)

Write a comment

Newest articles

Compact QKD system

… paves the way to cost-effective satellite-based quantum networks. Researchers demonstrate successful quantum key distribution between space lab and four ground stations. Researchers report an experimental demonstration of a space-to-ground…

Exploring quantum electron highways with laser light

Spiraling laser light reveals how topological insulators lose their ability to conduct electric current on their surfaces. Topological insulators, or TIs, have two faces: Electrons flow freely along their surface…

First image of antigen-bound T-cell receptor at atomic resolution

Immune system: Antigen binding does not trigger any structural changes in T-cell receptors – Signal transduction probably occurs after receptor enrichment. The immune system of vertebrates is a powerful weapon…

Partners & Sponsors