Research Into ICON Data Goes On

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In December of 2021, ICON successfully completed the observations necessary for meeting the objectives of its mission. For almost another year, the observatory and its four instruments continued to acquire a wealth of data, including a remarkable look at a very deep solar minimum and the effect of the Tonga volcanic eruption on Earth's upper atmosphere. An extension for ICON’s mission was planned, but contact with the spacecraft was lost on November 25th.  We continue to focus on the data that ICON acquired during those thousand days. Keep an eye on the updates and look at the Level 4 data products here. We continue to track the publications of our own team and external researchers here. If you know of a research publication that uses ICON data and it is not on our list, please let us know!

NASA Mission Finds Tonga Volcanic Eruption Effects Reached Space

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[by Mara Johnson-Groh NASA] When the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha‘apai volcano erupted on Jan. 15, 2022, it sent atmospheric shock waves, sonic booms, and tsunami waves around the world. Now, scientists are finding the volcano’s effects also reached space.

Analyzing data from NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer, or ICON, mission and ESA’s (the European Space Agency) Swarm satellites, scientists found that in the hours after the eruption, hurricane-speed winds and unusual electric currents formed in the ionosphere – Earth’s electrified upper atmospheric layer at the edge of space.

“The volcano created one of the largest disturbances in space we’ve seen in the modern era,” said Brian Harding, a physicist at University of California, Berkeley, and lead author on a new paper discussing the findings. “It is allowing us to test the poorly understood connection between the lower atmosphere and space.”

Strong Winds Power Electric Fields in the Upper Atmosphere, NASA’s ICON Finds

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[NASA Feature by Lina Tran on Nov 29 2021]

What happens on Earth doesn’t stay on Earth.

Using observations from NASA’s ICON mission, scientists presented the first direct measurements of Earth’s long-theorized dynamo on the edge of space: a wind-driven electrical generator that spans the globe 60-plus miles above our heads. The dynamo churns in the ionosphere, the electrically charged boundary between Earth and space. It’s powered by tidal winds in the upper atmosphere that are faster than most hurricanes and rise from the lower atmosphere, creating an electrical environment that can affect satellites and technology on Earth.

The new work, published [Nov 29 2021] in Nature Geoscience, improves our understanding of the ionosphere, which helps scientists better predict space weather and protect our technology from its effects.

 

NASA Rocket, Satellite Tag-Team to View the Giant Electric Current in the Sky

Mission launch timed as ICON passes nearby to compare perspectives on dynamo

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by Miles Hatfield, NASA —The Dynamo-2 sounding rocket mission will launch two rockets coordinated with the passing of the ICON satellite overhead to study a churning electric current in the upper atmosphere. The mission is just the latest in a centuries-long quest to understand the atmospheric dynamo, beginning with Michael Faraday’s invention of the electric generator.

Some 50 miles up, where Earth’s atmosphere blends into space, the air itself hums with an electric current. Scientists call it the atmospheric dynamo, an Earth-sized electric generator. It’s taken hundreds of years for scientists to lay the groundwork to understand it, but the principles that keep it running are only just now being revealed in detail. 

Following up on its predecessor’s 2013 flight, the Dynamos, Winds, and Electric Fields in the Daytime Lower Ionosphere-2, or Dynamo-2, sounding rocket mission will soon pierce the atmospheric winds thought to keep the dynamo churning. With the sounding rocket’s launch timed as NASA’s ICON (Ionospheric Connection Explorer) satellite passes nearby, these two space missions will combine their perspectives to advance our understanding of the giant electric circuit in the sky.

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ICON skin is based on Greytness by Adammer
Background image, courtesy of NASA, is a derivitave of photograph taken by D. Pettit from the ISS, used under Creative Commons license