NASA’s 15 Minute Flight Into The Heart Of The Northern Lights
NASA wants to learn more about how aurora’s work and hopefully this weekend they will be learning a little more as they launch a sounding rocket into, and above, the green aurora-lit skies of Poker Flats in Alaska.
For those not familiar with auroras this explanation comes from Wikipedia:
An aurora (plural: aurorae or auroras; from the Latin word aurora, “sunrise”) is a natural light display in the sky particularly in the high latitude (Arctic and Antarctic) regions, caused by the collision of energetic charged particles with atoms in the high altitude atmosphere (thermosphere). The charged particles originate in the magnetosphere and solar wind and, on Earth, are directed by the Earth’s magnetic field into the atmosphere.
What NASA wants to find out with its VISIONS (the much short version of “VISualizing Ion Outflow via Neutral atom imaging during a Substorm”) rocket is how the heat from the aurora slingshots oxygen atoms away from the Earth’s upper atmosphere and into space.
To accomplish this the roccket’s fifteen-minute flight will travel through the aurora and then above it to a height of around 500 miles, which is where the auroral wind is generated. It is hoped that we will be able to discover how the aurora manages to generate enough energy to create the auroral wind. As well scientists hope to get a sense of how big the stream of outbound oxygen is.