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.

 

First ICON Science Data Released to Public

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[by Lina Tran on the NASA blog] On June 22, NASA’s ICON team released scientific data collected during the spacecraft’s first eight months in orbit to the public.

The data release features observations from ICON’s four instruments — MIGHTI, FUV, EUV, and IVM — which have been observing the ins and outs of the ionosphere, the sea of charged particles high in the upper atmosphere. Scientists have been busy parsing the wealth of observations collected by ICON in preparation for the mission’s first science results, which will be released later this year.

“ICON was designed, built, and launched to provide data we had never seen before, and it has not disappointed us in any regard,” said Thomas Immel, ICON principal investigator at University of California, Berkeley. Immel said he was pleased to share ICON’s first data with the world. “The sensitivity and precision of our observations, and the unique orbit and mission design, give us a new and advanced tool for unlocking all the puzzling questions we have had about the connection between Earth’s atmosphere and our space environment.”

The release coincides with the virtual summer meeting of CEDAR, the Coupling, Energetics, and Dynamics of Atmospheric Regions program. The newly released data spans measurements made since the mission’s launch on Oct. 10, 2019. Data can be accessed through University of California Berkeley’s Space Sciences Lab.

ICON Co-Investigator Siegmund Wins the 2020 Joseph Weber Award for Astronomical Instrumentation

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The 2020 Joseph Weber Award for Astronomical Instrumentation, awarded for the design, invention, or significant improvement of instrumentation leading to advances in astronomy, goes to Oswald “Ossy” Siegmund (University of California, Berkeley, Space Sciences Laboratory) for his significant and innovative contributions to the technology of photon counting detectors and the impact these instruments have had on advancing our understanding of the universe. His role in developing and continually improving microchannel plate (MCP) detectors has been transformative to a broad range of astrophysical studies. Sensors incorporating MCPs are used in particle detectors and in astronomical instruments spanning X-ray, ultraviolet, and visible wavelengths. Over several decades detector technology directly enabled by Siegmund has been incorporated into numerous NASA, European Space Agency, and Department of Energy projects and has led to fundamental astrophysical discoveries."

Postcards from the Edge of Space: Scientists Present New Ionosphere Images and Science at AGU

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[NASA Feature by Lina Tran] In a Dec. 10 press event at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, three scientists presented new images of the ionosphere, the dynamic region where Earth’s atmosphere meets space. Home to astronauts and everyday technology like radio and GPS, the ionosphere constantly responds to changes from space above and Earth below.

The collection of images presented include the first images from NASA’s ICON, new science results from NASA’s GOLD, and observations of a fleeting, never-before-studied aurora. Together, they bring color to invisible processes that have widespread implications for the part of space that is closest to home.

ICON’s mission to the ionosphere begins with beautiful fall launch

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[Robert Sanders, Berkeley News, October 10, 2019] At 9:59 p.m. EDT this evening, Thursday, Oct. 10, NASA launched the Ionospheric Connection, or ICON, mission, putting into orbit a satellite built largely at UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory to explore the dynamic region where Earth meets space, the ionosphere.

The mission is the first dedicated to studying how terrestrial weather can help drive space weather above, in the region where our upper atmosphere overlaps with the lowest reaches of space – a dynamic region where changes can disrupt radio, cell phone, and GPS communications used to guide airplanes and ships.

While all went smoothly at the launch site over the Atlantic, mission control at the Space Sciences Laboratory had to contend with a power outage instituted by the local utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, to prevent predicted high winds from sparking fires in the surrounding Berkeley hills. The campus’s cogeneration plant supplied the needed power to track the satellite during its initial passes over California.

“It was like watching a choreographed performance turn into a jazz improvisation as problems come up and the individual team members solved them in real time feeding off one another’s talent and energy,” said astronomer Steve Beckwith, director of the lab.

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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