NASA is readying the launch of a new rocket that will endeavour to figure out what causes ane attribute of the aurora borealis to pulsate. The origin of this unique light testify is more than or less understood, but the nature of the pulsating light that often accompanies the infamous “Northern Lights” is still debated.


In northern latitudes, the aurora borealis, more commonly known every bit the Northern Lights, is a regular attraction. That’s because, if one is in the right identify at the right fourth dimension, one may witness a spectacle of light streaks draped beyond the northern heaven. While most are constant ribbons of blue, light-green, red, and purple, the Northern Lights accept one particular aurora different from the residuum; it pulsates.

During Globe State of war I, this pulsating was picked upwardly every bit an sound point, hinting at its potentially acoustical origins. Now, a NASA Goddard Space Flight Center team is set up to launch a rocket in the coming days that they believe will explain the nature of the pulsating aurora once and for all.


“Information technology’s sort of hypnotic, pulsating every few seconds,” said Dr. Alexa Halford, a space scientist at NASA’south Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the project’due south chief investigator, in a press release announcing the imminent mission. “The blobs and colors remind me of a lava lamp, where you tin can but sit and stare at it for hours.”

Based on the findings during World War I, where radio operators heard sound signals on radio receivers that occurred concurrently with the pulsating auroras, researchers have previously postulated that the phenomenon may have an acoustic component. It is a phenomenon known merely equally chorus waves.

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“Chorus waves occur at exactly the right frequency to ‘resonate’ with the electrons that create pulsating aurora, similar to how you pump your feet at just the correct time to get a swing to go higher and college,” said Dr. Allison Jaynes, a space physicist at the University of Iowa in Iowa Metropolis and co-investigator for the mission. Somewhen, said Jaynes, some of these electrons “spring off” the swing – and shoot into our atmosphere, probable resulting in the pulsating light show.

Oddly, the researchers annotation that these pulsating waves are caused by pretty low-energy particles. However, they are often witnessed alongside massive x-ray “microbursts” that originate from high-energy interactions.

“Pulsating aurora and microbursts seem to happen at similar times, even though they’re different energy ranges,” said Halford. “So, the big question is, are they the same events? Are they being driven past the same processes in the magnetosphere?”

To learn the answers to these questions, the squad will launch a sounding rocket into the atmosphere higher up the Northern Lights every bit presently equally they witness the telltale pulsing. At that point, according to the printing release, “the rocket will fly above the pulsating aurora, measuring the depression energy particles that cause them every bit well as the medium- and loftier-energy electrons that should also come up from a chorus wave.”

Back on Earth, the enquiry squad will use a riometer to collect an “independent mensurate” of the high free energy electrons “so the rocket squad can confirm their measurements.”


The research squad says they are prepare to go with a launch window that opens on Th, Feb 24th. Unfortunately, budget limitations hateful that their rocket will not accept the support of an on-site satellite, which could help reveal the origins of these pulsating auroras in one case and for all. However, the team says their custom-fabricated rocket and the instruments they will apply on the footing to ostend its reading mean that they may be able to find the answer even without that support satellite.

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“We have all but one slice of the puzzle that we’re hoping to grab simultaneously,” said Halford, who too indicated they may become lucky with a “chance flyby” of a satellite at the right fourth dimension to offer aid, “but whatever of it is going to provide us new data and hopefully assistance u.s. test that theory that it’south the chorus waves backside it all.”

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