Seeing the Aurora in a New Light
Swirls of green and red appear in an aurora over Whitehorse, Yukon on the night of Sep. 3, 2012. NASA's VISIONS sounding rocket will study what makes the aurora, and how it affects Earth’s atmosphere.
Image Courtesy of David Cartier, Sr.
On a cold February night in Poker Flat, Alaska, a team of scientists will wait patiently for the exotic red and green glow of an aurora to illuminate the sky. Instead of simply admiring the view, this group from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center of Greenbelt, Md., and The Aerospace Corporation of El Segundo, Calif. will launch a sounding rocket up through the Northern Lights. The rocket could launch as early as the night of Feb. 2, 2013, but the team has a two-week window in order to find the perfect launch conditions.
Armed with a series of instruments developed specifically for this mission, the VISIONS (VISualizing Ion Outflow via Neutral atom imaging during a Substorm) rocket will soar high through the arctic sky to study the auroral wind, which is a strong but intermittent stream of oxygen atoms from Earth’s atmosphere into outer space. Although the rocket will survive only fifteen minutes before splashing down in the Arctic Ocean, the information it obtains will provide answers to some long-standing questions, says Doug Rowland, who is the VISIONS principal investigator at Goddard. To read more go to: www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/sunearth/news/visions-aurora.html