NASA Rocket Carrying Instruments Built at UNH Launched Into Aurora

NASA Rocket Carrying Instruments Built at UNH Launched Into Aurora

Feb 23, 2012

With the full sky shimmering in green aurora on Feb. 18, 2012, a team of scientists, including space physicist Marc Lessard and graduate students from UNH’s Space Science Center, launched an instrument-laden, two-stage sounding rocket from the Poker Flat Research Range in Fairbanks, Alaska. The precision measurements from the rocket’s instruments will shed new light on the physical processes that create the northern lights and further our understanding of the complex sun-Earth connection.

Funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Magnetosphere-Ionosphere Coupling in the Alfvén resonator (MICA) mission sent a 40-foot Terrier-Black Brant rocket arcing through aurora 186 miles above Earth. The rocket sent a stream of real-time data back before landing some 200 miles downrange shortly after the launch.

Instruments onboard, including those built at UNH, sampled electric and magnetic fields as well as charged particles in Earth’s upper atmosphere (ionosphere) that get sloshed back and forth
by a specific form of electromagnetic energy known as Alfvén waves. These waves are thoughtto be a key driver of “discrete” aurora – the typical, well-defined band of shimmering lights about six miles thick and stretching east to west from horizon to horizon.

The mission involves collaborators from UNH, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, the Southwest Research Institute, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and the University of Oslo.

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