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.”

ICON Mission Operations Update #8 - New EUV Level 1 products and revised Level 2 retrievals

Level 2 version unchanged for now

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The EUV Level 1 (L1) product containing EUV limb radiances has been updated to V3. This resolves primarily remaining issues with flatfielding. The Level 2 (L2) products are now re-run using these L1 inputs. The retrieval algorithm hasn't changed but the revision number has been indexed on the L2 products. This now extends the L2 products into 2021.

June 14 launch of ICON satellite to probe the edge of space

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By Robert Sanders, UC Berkeley Media relations | June 1, 2018

If scientists hope to predict the magnetic storms around Earth that endanger satellites and interfere with radio communications on the ground, they must understand how tropical storms on Earth affect these magnetic storms 60 miles above our heads.

A new mission, NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON), is charged with that very task: to measure the winds of ionized atoms at the edge of space and determine how they are impacted by atmospheric weather, in particular seasonal monsoons in the tropics.


Designed and built at the Space Sciences Laboratory of UC Berkeley, ICON is scheduled for a June 14 launch from an airplane over the Pacific Ocean, and should start probing the upper atmosphere and ionosphere by August.

“We are built to catch everything that is coming up into space at the boundary of space,” said Thomas Immel, principle investigator for the mission and a physicist at the Space Sciences Laboratory. “Anything that comes past there we are going to see.”

ICON Ready to Ship

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The ICON mission is proceeding apace. High fives are in order since the team just completed its fourth operational readiness test (ORT). During an ORT, a dozen SSL Mission Operation Team Members join forces with two dozen spacecraft engineers from Orbital ATK to rehearse the first week of activities that will occur during ICON’s launch and early orbit. It’s an entire week of long days and intensive testing in ICON’s Mission Operations Center at the UC Berkeley Space Sciences Lab, to simulate operation of the observatory. Spurred along by the fact that this was the final ORT before launch, the team worked together to bring it to a healthy and successful completion (simulating operations with a failed momentum wheel, no less). The next time these teams come together at SSL will be the actual launch day for ICON.

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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