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.

ICON at AGU Fall Meeting

Online 1-17 December 2020

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AGU logoThe AGU Fall Meeting will be one of the world's largest virtual scientific conferences, with exciting programming and events. #AGU20 is scheduled from 1-17 December. Scientific program content will be available on-demand, with pre-recorded oral presentations and virtual posters available for attendees to view and peruse outside of the scheduled live Q&A sessions during the meeting.

Click "read more" to see a PDF of ICON science-related sessions, posters, and the SPA Town Hall on Wednesday night, Dec. 9.

 

ICON had a better year than most of us

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Clearly the solution to the challenges of 2020 is to be in space, far above earthly problems. We’re celebrating one year since our launch on October 10, and – once past the electrical grid shutdowns that made launch challenging -- ICON has had a pretty rewarding year. Mission operations have gone smoothly, overcoming all challenges that have come up, and implementing a lot of calibration activities to enhance the science mission. Our instruments have gotten great data which are now available to the public. A number of ICON-related articles have gone to press or are heading there shortly, see our publications. We’re looking forward to Fall AGU to share our science results with a broad audience.

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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