NASA decided to investigate the mysteries of space a little closer to home, as the space agency announced the launch of two missions that will explore the portion separating Earth from outer space.
NASA’s first mission called the Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD) will be launched this month while the Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) is scheduled to launch later this year.
The subject of interest is most commonly known as the ionosphere and it is 96 km above Earth’s surface.
This is the area between Earth and space, a layer of the planet’s upper atmosphere. According to NASA, GOLD and ICON will explore different parts of the ionosphere. ICON, for example, will be in Earth’s lower orbit, at 560 km above the planet. GOLD, on the other hand, will be in a geostationary orbit over the Western Hemisphere, at a height of over 35 thousand km above Earth’s surface.
NASA states that the two mission will complement each other, with ICON passing through GOLD’s field of view and getting snapshots of the same area but at half an hour intervals. The space agency explained that this data overlap allows scientists to better identify reasons for changes in the upper atmosphere.
One point of interest for NASA is how the upper atmosphere changes when hurricanes and geomagnetic storms occur.
ICON mission scientist, Doug Rowland, said how they used to think solar wind could affect the ionosphere, and how the lower atmosphere was exclusively affected by terrestrial weather.
“…but now we’re going to get to see how that energy couples together,” said Rowland.
GOLD’s other mission objective is to explore how the upper atmosphere reacts to geomagnetic storms, which temporarily affect Earth’s magnetic field caused by solar activity. GOLD will observe changes in the ionosphere at night.
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