NASA rocket to study mysterious area above the North Pole

NASA rocket to study mysterious area above the North Pole

Strange things happen in Earth’s atmosphere at high latitudes. Around local noon, when the Sun is at its highest point, a funnel-shaped gap in our planet’s magnetic field passes overhead. Earth’s magnetic field shields us from the solar wind, the stream of charged particles spewing off the Sun. The gap in that field, called the polar cusp, allows the solar wind a direct line of access to Earth’s atmosphere.

Radio and GPS signals behave strangely when they travel through this part of the sky. In the last 20 years, scientists and spacecraft operators noticed something else unusual as spacecraft pass through this region: They slow down.

“At around 250 miles above Earth, spacecraft feel more drag, sort of like they’ve hit a speed bump,” said Mark Conde, a physicist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the principal investigator for NASA’s Cusp Region Experiment-2, or CREX-2, sounding rocket mission. That’s because the air in the cusp is noticeably denser than air elsewhere in the spacecrafts’ orbits around Earth. But no one knows why, or how. By understanding the forces at play in the cusp, scientists hope to better anticipate changes in spacecraft trajectories. The launch window for CREX-2, which launches from Andenes, Norway, opens at 4 a.m. EST (10 a.m. CET) on Dec. 1, 2021.

CREX-2 first aimed to learn more about the dynamics in the cusp in 2019, but although all systems were ready for launch, the mission never got off the ground. There was little solar activity at the time, and as a result, space weather conditions weren’t right for the mission during the initial launch window. The COVID-19 pandemic further postponed its flight. Now, after a nearly two-year delay, CREX-2 is once again preparing to fly in hopes of answering questions about the cusp. The team is optimistic; the Sun is in a more active stage of its natural cycle this time around, increasing the chances that space weather conditions will be favorable for their mission to study an unusually dense region of the atmosphere.

While the density of Earth’s atmosphere decreases rapidly with height, it stays consistent horizontally. That is, at any given altitude, the atmosphere is roughly the same density around globe.

Except in the cusp, where 250 miles overhead, there’s a pocket of air roughly one and a half times denser than other air at that altitude. “You can’t just increase the mass in a region by a factor of 1.5 and do nothing else, or the sky will fall,” Conde said. Something invisible supports that extra mass, and the CREX-2 mission aims to figure out exactly what it is.

The mission is designed to measure the numerous factors that could potentially explain how the cusp’s dense air stays suspended. Then, Conde said, scientists can “try and sort out which one is doing the work.”

One possibility involves electric and magnetic effects in the ionosphere, the layer of Earth’s upper atmosphere that is ionized by the Sun, meaning it contains electrically charged particles. Electrodynamics could support the denser air indirectly, or it may cause heating that generates vertical winds to keep the dense air aloft. CREX-2 has an array of instruments designed to measure these effects.

Another explanation might be that air in the entire vertical column of the cusp is denser than its surroundings. Stacked atop heavier air, the dense air 250 miles high would remain buoyant. But having a column of heavier air should also produce horizontal or even vortex-like winds, which CREX-2 is designed to look for.

And it will do so in style. The rocket will eject 20 soda can-sized canisters, each with its own small rocket motor, in four directions. The canisters are timed to rupture at different altitudes. When they burst, they’ll release vapor tracers – particles often found in firework displays which glow by scattering sunlight or upon exposure to oxygen – in a three-dimensional grid in the sky. The wind will paint the sky with these glowing clouds, revealing how air moves in this unusual section of the atmosphere.

This aspect of the mission requires complicated logistics. “It’s quite a big chess game,” Conde said. The team needs to see these tracers from several vantage points to get a comprehensive understanding of the wind patterns. Scientists, some of them graduate students, will be stationed throughout Scandinavia to photograph the tracers over the course of 20-30 minutes. One student will document them from a plane flying from Reykjavik, Iceland, and others will capture the glows from two sites on the Norwegian island of Svalbard.

There are some “Goldilocks” conditions necessary for launch. The cusp is only present around local noon, but the sky needs to be dark for the tracers’ glow to be visible. That’s why CREX-2 will launch in mid-winter, when there’s very little sunlight at these extreme northern latitudes.

“We’re threading a needle,” Conde said. “We get about an hour or two each day when conditions are suitable to do the experiment.” And, at least two of the stations need a clear view of the tracers for sufficient data collection. The 2019 launch window was open for 17 days, not one of which was suitable for CREX-2 to fly.

“The rocket business is a high-stakes game,” Conde said. “You’ll spend two or three years developing a payload, but ultimately, it all comes down to choosing when to press the button to capture the science you want.” Sometimes, that moment doesn’t arrive. Conde and the CREX-2 team are eager for another opportunity to launch. “Honestly, it feels amazing,” Conde said. “To finally be trying again – I’m not quite sure I have the words for it.”

News Related

OTHER NEWS

New study sheds light on origins of life on Earth

Addressing one of the most profoundly unanswered questions in biology, a Rutgers-led team has discovered the structures of proteins that may be responsible for the origins of life in the ... Read more »

Particles formed in boreal forests affect clouds in the troposphere

A new study shows that through aerosol formation and growth, the forests are capable of mitigating climate change and have a regional effect on the climate of an entire continent ... Read more »

Arianespace to launch Microcarb on Vega C

Arianespace has been awarded a launch contract by ESA, on behalf of the European Commission, to launch Microcarb in 2023 on Vega C. Microcarb is a 190kg satellite developed by ... Read more »

NASA's Spitzer illuminates exoplanets in Astronomical Society briefing

Two new studies using data from NASA’s retired Spitzer Space Telescope shed light on giant exoplanets and brown dwarfs, objects that aren’t quite stars but aren’t quite planets either. Both ... Read more »

The Proba-3 program takes an important step in the integration of its two satellites

The Proba-3 program, spearheaded by SENER Aeroespacial, the project’s prime contractor for the European Space Agency (ESA), has accomplished several relevant milestones in the integration of the two satellites that ... Read more »

SETI's plan for a sky-monitoring telescope on the moon

The SETI Institute teamed up with Louisiana State University (LSU) and Mississippi State University (MSU) to help students design the science program for AstronetX PBC’s first lunar-based camera (L-CAM 1). ... Read more »

GalaxySpace to establish space-based network

GalaxySpace will launch six satellites to verify broadband internet technologies GalaxySpace, a private satellite maker based in Beijing, plans to deploy six satellites into low-Earth orbits before the end of ... Read more »

PLATO clears decisive hurdle

The European Space Agency (ESA) has given the green light to build the flight models of the spacecraft and science payload for the PLATO mission to search for extrasolar planets. ... Read more »

There are 40 billion billions of Black Holes in the Universe!

With a new computational approach, SISSA researchers have been able to make the fascinating calculation. Moreover, according to their work, around 1% of the overall ordinary (baryonic) matter is locked ... Read more »

Private investment in space infrastructure hit record $14.5B in 2021

Private investment in space infrastructure companies hit a record-breaking $14.5 billion last year, according to a report Tuesday by New York City-based firm Space Capital. The new report from the ... Read more »

Data-relay system connects astronauts direct to Europe

Astronauts on board the International Space Station are connecting straight to Europe at light speed, thanks to the European Data Relay System. An upgrade to the communications system is delivering ... Read more »

SpaceX launches 2,000th Starlink satellite from Florida

SpaceX successfully launched 49 Starlink satellites from Florida on Tuesday evening, bringing the total number of Starlinks launched to over 2,000. The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Complex 39A ... Read more »

China conducts its first rocket launch of 2022

China launched a Long March 2D carrier rocket on Monday morning, kicking off the country’s space program for 2022. The rocket blasted off at 10:35 am at the Taiyuan Satellite ... Read more »

Flying with the clouds

In precipitating clouds, the vertical cloud structure reflects the dynamic and thermal structural characteristics and microphysical characteristics of precipitating cloud clusters. Aircraft cloud detection has become a basic method to ... Read more »

New research may help scientists unravel the physics of the solar wind

A new study led by University of Minnesota Twin Cities researchers, using data from NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, provides insight into what generates and accelerates the solar wind, a stream ... Read more »

Update on Africa's 1st Satellite constellation built by CPUT

The Marine Domain Awareness Satellites (MDASat) have already started successfully transmitting data after they were launched aboard US aerospace company SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket yesterday. The mission carried a total ... Read more »

A second successful launch for SpaceCloud into space

SpaceCloud once again headed into orbit as a part of D-Orbit’s ION Satellite Carrier onboard SpaceX’s Transporter-3 mission that was launched January 13th from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The mission aims ... Read more »

Access to the 'SpaceDataHighway'

The ‘Columbus Ka-Band Terminal’ (ColKa) has commenced service. “The volume of scientific data generated by the experiments on the International Space Station (ISS) is continuously increasing. ColKa gives the Columbus ... Read more »

Palomar survey instrument analyzes impact of Starlink satellites

Since 2019, SpaceX has been launching an increasing number of internet satellites into orbit around Earth. The satellite constellation, called Starlink, now includes nearly 1,800 members orbiting at altitudes of ... Read more »

SpaceX launches 105 satellites from Florida

SpaceX successfully launched 105 satellites from Florida on Thursday morning as part of its rideshare program, which it uses to release satellites for dozens of customers in a single mission. ... Read more »

Using High Temperature Composites For Sustainable Space Travel

On the ground, sound waves travel at around 340 metres per second. An aircraft is Supersonic when it exceeds the speed of sound. Hypersonic speed is more than five times ... Read more »

Aliena deploys compact and fuel-efficient satellite engine into space

Aliena, a tech spin-off from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore), has been deployed into space a nanosatellite fitted with a fuel-efficient engine it has developed. The nanosatellite was sent ... Read more »

Hubble views a tranquil galaxy with an explosive past

The lazily winding spiral arms of the spectacular galaxy NGC 976 fill the frame of this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. This spiral galaxy lies around 150 million ... Read more »

Vast bubble in interstellar space source of all nearby, young stars

The Earth sits in a 1,000-light-year-wide void surrounded by thousands of young stars – but how did those stars form? In a paper appearing in Nature, astronomers at the Center ... Read more »

Webb Begins Its Months-Long Mirror Alignment

Webb has begun the detailed process of fine-tuning its individual optics into one huge, precise telescope. Engineers first commanded actuators – 126 devices that will move and shape the primary ... Read more »

DESI maps more galaxies than all previous surveys combined

The Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) has cataloged more galaxies than all other previous three-dimensional redshift surveys combined, measuring 7.5 million galaxies in only seven months since beginning science operations. ... Read more »

$10M elevates UArizona hypersonics facilities to national prominence

University of Arizona aerospace and mechanical engineering researchers have received $3.5 million in funding from the state of Arizona’s investment in the New Economy Initiative and $6.5 million in federal ... Read more »

Loft Orbital signs with Airbus to procure 15 Arrow satellite platforms

Airbus has been contracted to supply space start-up Loft Orbital with more than fifteen satellite platforms derived from the Airbus Arrow platform. Arrow is the foundational satellite platform of the ... Read more »

Plato exoplanet mission gets green light for next phase

Plato, ESA’s next-generation planet hunting mission, has been given the green light to continue with its development after the critical milestone review concluded successfully on 11 January 2022. The review ... Read more »

Earth's interior is cooling faster than expected

The evolution of our Earth is the story of its cooling: 4.5 billion years ago, extreme temperatures prevailed on the surface of the young Earth, and it was covered by ... Read more »

New DAF software factory aims to digitally transform AFRL

The chief software officer for the Air Force recently designated Hangar 18 as a Department of the Air Force software factory. Hangar 18 joins 16 other DAF software factories-including the ... Read more »

Arase uncovers Geospace coupling between plasma waves and charged particles

In a new study published in Physical Review Letters, researchers from Japan show that high-frequency plasma waves in the Geospace can generate low-frequency plasma waves through wave-particle interactions by heating ... Read more »

Chile court freezes multi-million dollar lithium deal

A Chilean appeals court on Friday suspended a million-dollar state lithium tender issued two days earlier that had generated controversy for coming just two months before the end of conservative ... Read more »

Understanding the "cold spot" in the cosmic microwave background

After the Big Bang, the universe, glowing brightly, was opaque and so hot that atoms could not form. Eventually cooling down to about minus 454 degrees Fahrenheit (-270 degrees Celsius), ... Read more »

Evidence for a second supermoon beyond our solar system

Astronomers have reported a second, super-sized moon orbiting a Jupiter-sized planet beyond our solar system. If confirmed, the sighting could mean that exomoons are as common in the universe as ... Read more »

Virgin Orbit mission success brings UK satellite launch one step closer

Satellite launch from Spaceport Cornwall is a step closer following Virgin Orbit’s successful ‘Above the Clouds’ mission in the US. The UK Space Agency welcomes the news that Virgin Orbit ... Read more »

OMEGA joins ClearSpace to clean up space

ClearSpace SA is working to rid space of dangerous debris comprising left-over rockets and defunct satellites. Now, Swiss watchmaker OMEGA, manufacturer of the first watch worn on the Moon, is ... Read more »

Iran tests solid-fuel satellite carrier rocket

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards tested last week a solid-fuel satellite carrier rocket, state media has reported quoting the force’s aerospace commander as saying. Reports carried footage released by the elite force ... Read more »

SpaceX launches 44 SuperDove satellites for Planet Labs

Planet Labs reports the successful launch of its 4x Flock, consisting of 44 SuperDove satellites, into orbit on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The company has established contact with all ... Read more »

Ironing out the interiors of exoplanets

The discovery of more than 4,500 extra-solar planets has created a need for modelling their interior structure and dynamics. As it turns out, iron plays a key role. Lawrence Livermore ... Read more »
On free-english-test.com you will find lots of free English exam practice materials to help you improve your English skills: grammar, listening, reading, writing, ielts, toeic