Saturday, June 29, 2013

NASA launch will produce lithium gas clouds in clear skies

NASA hopes to launch two sounding rockets from Wallops Flight Facility, Va. on Thursday between 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. EDT.

The rockets, a Black Brant V and a Terrier-Improved Orion, will launch 15-seconds apart in support of the Daytime Dynamo experiment, which is a joint project between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

The project is designed to study a global electrical current called the dynamo, which sweeps through the ionosphere. The ionosphere stretches from about 30 to 600 miles above Earth and plays a crucial role in our day-to-day lives. For example, radio waves bounce off it as they travel from sender to receiver, and communications signals from satellites travel through it as well. A disruption in the ionosphere can disrupt these signals.

The first rocket scheduled for launch is a single-stage Black Brant V, which will collect data on the neutral and charged particles it travels through. The second rocket is a two-stage Terrier-Improved Orion. It will shoot out a long trail of lithium gas to track how the upper atmospheric wind varies with altitude. These winds are believed to be the drivers of the dynamo currents. Clear skies are required to view these trails using ground-based cameras.

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