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NASA rocket for studying mysterious areas above the Arctic

During testing at the Andøya Space Center, the steam tracer ampoule door is open with the CREX-2 payload. Credit: NASA

Strange things happen in the Earth’s atmosphere at high latitudes. Around noon, when the sun is at its highest point, a funnel-shaped gap in the magnetic field of our planet passes overhead. The Earth’s magnetic field protects us from the solar wind, the flow of charged particles erupting from the sun. The gap in the field, called the polar cusp, allows the solar wind to provide direct access to the Earth’s atmosphere.


Radio and GPS signals behave strangely as they pass through this part of the sky. Over the last two decades, scientists and spacecraft operators have noticed other anomalies as spacecraft pass through the area. They slow down.

Mark Conde, a physicist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and a senior researcher at NASA’s Cusp Area Experiment 2, said, “About 250 miles above Earth, the spacecraft feels more resistance as if it hit a speed bump.” Said. CREX-2, sounding rocket mission. This is because the air in the cusp is significantly denser than the air elsewhere in the spacecraft’s orbit around the Earth. But no one knows why or how. Scientists want to better predict changes in spacecraft orbits by understanding the forces acting at the tip. The CREX-2 launch window, launched from Andenes, Norway, will open on December 1, 2021 at 4 am EST (10 am EST).

The CREX-2 was first aimed at learning more about cusp dynamics in 2019, ready to launch all the systems, but the mission never got off the ground. There was little solar activity at the time, and as a result, space weather conditions were not suitable for the mission during the first launch window. The COVID-19 pandemic has further postponed its flight. Now, after a delay of almost two years, CREX-2 is preparing to fly again in the hope of answering questions about the cusp. The team is optimistic. This time the Sun is in a more active stage of the natural cycle, raising the possibility that space weather conditions are favorable for their mission to study anomalous areas of the atmosphere.

The density of the Earth’s atmosphere decreases rapidly with height, but remains constant in the horizontal direction. That is, at all altitudes, the atmosphere is about the same density around the world.

This aspect of the mission requires complex logistics. “It’s a pretty big chess game,” Conde said. Teams need to look at these tracers from several perspectives in order to have a comprehensive understanding of wind patterns. Scientists (some of whom are graduate students) are stationed throughout Scandinavia and take pictures of tracers in 20-30 minutes. One student records them from a plane flying from Reykjavik, Iceland, and another student captures brilliance from two locations on Svalbard Island, Norway.

There are some “Goldilocks” conditions required for launch. The cusp only exists around noon on the ground, but the sky needs to be darkened to see the tracer’s glow. Therefore, CREX-2 will be launched in midwinter with little sunlight at these far north latitudes.

Advanced Science: NASA Rocket for Studying Mysterious Areas Above the Arctic

The colorful clouds formed by the emission of steam tracers from the two rockets allow scientists to measure the wind. Credits: NASA / Lee Wingfield

“We are passing through the needle,” Conde said. “It takes about an hour or two every day under suitable conditions for the experiment.” Also, you need to have a clear view of the tracer at at least two stations to get enough data. 2019 Startup window Was open for 17 days, but none was suitable for the CREX-2 flight.

“The rocket business is a high stakes game,” Conde said. “It takes a couple of years to develop the payload, but in the end you have to press a button and choose when to capture the science you need.” Sometimes the moment doesn’t arrive. Conde and the CREX-2 team are anxious for another opportunity to launch. “Honestly, it feels great,” Conde said. “Finally try again. I’m not sure if that word is there.”

Except for the tip of 250 miles overhead, there are pockets of air at that altitude that are about 1.5 times denser than other air. “You can’t do anything else by multiplying the mass of one area by 1.5 times, otherwise the sky will fall,” says Conde. Something invisible supports that extra mass, and the CREX-2 mission aims to give you an accurate understanding of what it is.

The mission is designed to measure many factors that may explain how the dense air in the cusp is floating. Later, Conde said scientists could “try and sort out who is doing the job.”

One possibility involves the electrical and magnetic effects of the ionosphere, the layer of the Earth’s upper atmosphere that is ionized by the Sun. That is, the ionosphere contains charged particles. Electrodynamics may indirectly support denser air. Alternatively, it can cause heating that produces vertical winds, keeping dense air in the air. The CREX-2 has a set of instruments designed to measure these effects.

Another explanation may be that the air in the entire vertical column of the valvular apex is denser than its surroundings. Dense air at a height of 250 miles, stacked on top of heavier air, maintains buoyancy. However, with heavier columns of air, horizontal or vortex-like winds should occur. It is designed for CREX-2 to look for.

And it will do so stylishly. The rocket ejects 20 soda can-sized canisters in four directions, each with its own small rocket motor. The canister is timed to explode at different altitudes. When they burst, they emit steam tracers (particles commonly found in fireworks displays that glow when they scatter sunlight or are exposed to oxygen) into an empty three-dimensional grid. The wind draws the sky with these glowing clouds, revealing how the air moves in this unusual part of the atmosphere.


NASA rockets are studying why technology dries near the poles


Quote: Advanced Science: NASA Rocket (November 30, 2021) for studying the mysterious territory above the Arctic is https://phys.org/news/2021-11-science-cusp-nasa-rocket -Obtained November 30, 2021 from mysterious.html

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NASA rocket for studying mysterious areas above the Arctic

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