NASA instruments document contraction of the boundary between the Earth's ionosphere, space

Dec 15, 2008
NASA instruments document contraction of the boundary between the Earth's ionosphere, space
The C/NOFS mission gives scientists a new tool for forecasting space weather. The CINDI instrument aboard C/NOFS specifically studies the major elements that influence space weather near Earth¹s equator. Credit: NASA

(PhysOrg.com) -- Observations made by NASA instruments onboard an Air Force satellite have shown that the boundary between the Earth's upper atmosphere and space has moved to extraordinarily low altitudes. These observations were made by the Coupled Ion Neutral Dynamics Investigation (CINDI) instrument suite, which was launched aboard the U.S. Air Force's Communication/Navigation Outage Forecast System (C/NOFS) satellite on April 16, 2008.

The CINDI suite, which was built under the direction Principal Investigator Rod Heelis of the University of Texas at Dallas, includes both ion and neutral sensors and makes measurements of the variations in neutral and ion densities and drifts.

CINDI and C/NOFS were designed to study disturbances in Earth's ionosphere that can result in a disruption of navigation and communication signals. The ionosphere is a gaseous envelope of electrically charged particles that surrounds our planet and it is important because Radar, radio waves, and global positioning system signals can be disrupted by ionospheric disturbances.

CINDI's first discovery was, however, that the ionosphere was not where it had been expected to be. During the first months of CINDI operations the transition between the ionosphere and space was found to be at about 260 miles (420 km) altitude during the nighttime, barely rising above 500 miles (800 km) during the day. These altitudes were extraordinarily low compared with the more typical values of 400 miles (640 km) during the nighttime and 600 miles (960 km) during the day.

The height of the ionosphere/space transition is controlled in part by the amount of extreme ultraviolet energy emitted by the Sun and a somewhat contracted ionosphere could have been expected because C/NOFS was launched during a minimum in the 11-year cycle of solar activity. However, the size of the actual contraction caught investigators by surprise. In fact, when they looked back over records of solar activity, they found that C/NOFS had been launched during the quietest solar minimum since the space age began.

This extraordinary circumstance is providing an unparalleled opportunity to study the connection between the interior dynamics of the Sun and the response of the Earth's space environment.

Animation: www.nasa.gov/mpg/296945main_CI… nosphere_512x288.mpg

Source: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Explore further: Earthquake early alert system ready to expand in California

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Rare new species of plant: Stachys caroliniana

28 minutes ago

The exclusive club of explorers who have discovered a rare new species of life isn't restricted to globetrotters traveling to remote locations like the Amazon rainforests, Madagascar or the woodlands of the ...

New terahertz device could strengthen security

31 minutes ago

We are all familiar with the hassles that accompany air travel. We shuffle through long lines, remove our shoes, and carry liquids in regulation-sized tubes. And even after all the effort, we still wonder if these procedures ...

European space plane set for February launch

40 minutes ago

Europe's first-ever "space plane" will be launched on February 11 next year, rocket firm Arianespace said Friday after a three-month delay to fine-tune the mission flight plan.

Space station rarity: Two women on long-term crew

41 minutes ago

For the 21st-century spacewoman, gender is a subject often best ignored. After years of training for their first space mission, the last thing Samantha Cristoforetti and Elana Serova want to dwell on is the ...

Recommended for you

Better forecasts for sea ice under climate change

13 hours ago

University of Adelaide-led research will help pinpoint the impact of waves on sea ice, which is vulnerable to climate change, particularly in the Arctic where it is rapidly retreating.

"Ferrari of space' yields best map of ocean currents

21 hours ago

A satellite dubbed the "Ferrari of space" has yielded the most accurate model of ocean circulation yet, boosting understanding of the seas and a key impact of global warming, scientists said Tuesday.

User comments : 0

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.