In an effort to better analyze and investigate the ionosphere, NASA just launched the GOLD satellite (short for "Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk") this evening, a mission which yet again proves that somebody at the space agency really loves catchy acronyms. This is the first time NASA has sent a scientific mission on the back of a commercial satellite.
Space is not completely empty: It's teeming with fast-moving charged particles and electric and magnetic fields that guide their motion. At the boundary between the Earth's atmosphere and space-called the ionosphere-the charged particles co-exist with the upper reaches of the neutral atmosphere-called the thermosphere.
Richard Eastes, principal investigator for the GOLD mission, said that the constant monitoring will allow for observations of other phenomena, such as the effects of solar flares.
"Tsunamis create waves in the air, and they move upwards, which could cause changes at the boundary between Earth and space", said Sarah Jones, GOLD mission scientist.
This tenuous region of the atmosphere has been known to undergo swift and significant changes in less than an hour. This combination of factors makes it hard to predict changes in the ionosphere - and these changes can have a big impact.
It's also where astronauts live on the International Space Station.
This makes it hard to predict changes in the ionosphere, which includes low-earth orbiting satellites and communications signals, including radio waves and signals that make GPS systems work.
One of the goals of the mission is to understand what drives changes in the region. GOLD is the first mission that can provide us with observations fast enough to monitor the details of regular, hour-by-hour changes in space weather - not just its overarching climate. Spectrographs are scientific instruments that have been created to break light down into its constituent wavelengths and to measure their intensity. Its sensors field the full spectra of light.
From these images, scientists can determine the temperature and relative amounts of different particles - such as atomic oxygen and molecular nitrogen - present in the neutral atmosphere, which is useful for determining how these neutral gases shape ionospheric conditions. These data will provide the first maps of the upper atmosphere's changing temperature and composition all over the Americas. LASP built the instrument. A payload hosted on an otherwise unrelated satellite, the GOLD instrument flies in geostationary orbit on a commercial communications satellite, SES-14, built by Airbus for Luxembourg-based satellite operator, SES.
NASA is set to launch a project Thursday night that will help researchers study the part of space that meets Earth's upper atmosphere. "By backing out to geostationary, we can put things in a global context. You can see half the Earth from out there".
GOLD itself is a satellite of sorts, which will orbit around the Earth at the relatively close height of 22,000 miles in order to get some good photos and data from the ionosphere. The mission will be able to see how exactly it affects our day-to-day life.
GOLD is the newest addition to NASA's fleet of Heliophysics missions.
The outermost layer of the planet's atmosphere is called the ionosphere and it helps protect the Earth and everything on it from the energy coming from the sun, including the radiation.