Scientists launch rockets to test atmospheric conditions

February 26, 2009

Clemson University space physicists have traveled around the world to launch rockets to test atmospheric conditions.

This shows the fourth launch of a rocket at Poker Flat Research Range. Center: time exposure of first- and second-stage firetrail. Background: auroral arc in the north.Scientists most recently launched a salvo of four rockets over Alaska to study turbulence in the upper atmosphere. The launches took place at Poker Flat Research Range north of Fairbanks as part of a NASA sounding rocket campaign.

Associate professor of physics and astronomy Gerald Lehmacher is the principal investigator for the experiment and was assisted by graduate students Shelton Simmons and Liyu Guo.

"After six days of cloudy and snowy weather, we had perfect conditions with a clear, moonless night sky over interior Alaska," said Lehmacher. "We needed excellent viewing conditions from three camera sites to photograph the luminescent trails the payloads produced in the upper atmosphere."

The rockets were 35-foot, two-stage Terrier Orions. They released trimethyl aluminum that creates a glowing vapor trail nearly 87 miles up. Sensitive cameras on the ground track the trails. From that Lehmacher and his team can analyze upper-atmospheric winds by tracking how the vapor trails form, billow, disperse and diffuse. Two of the rockets had an additional deployable payload with instrumentation to measure electron density and neutral temperature and turbulence.

The instrumented sections are a collaboration of Clemson with Penn State University and the Leibniz-Institute for Atmospheric Physics in Germany. The University of Alaska assisted in the study with ground-based laser radar and other optical instruments. The project is sponsored by a NASA grant for three years.

In January, Clemson physicists traveled to Norway to carry out a joint experiment with Japanese scientists to study atmospheric winds and circulation from heating created by electrical currents associated with Northern Lights displays. The measurements were made with instruments flown on a Japanese S-310 rocket launched from the Andoya Rocket Range in northern Norway, as well as a suite of sensitive radar and camera instruments on the ground.

Source: Clemson University

Explore further: NASA Mars orbiter preparing for Mars lander's 2016 arrival

Related Stories

Rosetta and Philae at comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

June 22, 2015

Rosetta has been exploring comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko since summer 2014. In November 2014, the Philae lander landed on the surface of the comet. The first measurements by the scientific instruments allow conclusions ...

Recommended for you

Drought's lasting impact on forests

July 30, 2015

In the virtual worlds of climate modeling, forests and other vegetation are assumed to bounce back quickly from extreme drought. But that assumption is far off the mark, according to a new study of drought impacts at forest ...

A cataclysmic event of a certain age

July 27, 2015

At the end of the Pleistocene period, approximately 12,800 years ago—give or take a few centuries—a cosmic impact triggered an abrupt cooling episode that earth scientists refer to as the Younger Dryas.

'Carbon sink' detected underneath world's deserts

July 28, 2015

The world's deserts may be storing some of the climate-changing carbon dioxide emitted by human activities, a new study suggests. Massive aquifers underneath deserts could hold more carbon than all the plants on land, according ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.