NASA has launched an exploratory rocket from Norway to help understand the dense area of the upper atmosphere on the Earth’s sunny side.
There is a hole in the Earth’s magnetic field in an area known as the polar tip. This space allows solar winds from the sun to reach the Earth’s atmosphere, causes radio and GPS signals to behave strangely, and slows down spacecraft as they pass through this region. The air in this region is denser than elsewhere in the orbit of spacecraft around the Earth, but it is not understood how or why.
Cusp Region Experiment-2 (CREX-2) is funded by NASA and led by Mark Conde of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute. The mission aims to understand the dynamics at the forefront, first set to do so in 2019 as part of Grand Challenge Initiative project CUSP. However, it was delayed due to low solar activity, and the Covid-19 pandemic only served to delay the flight further. Now CREX-2 was finally able to launch on December 1 from a launch pad in Andenes, Norway, at. 3:25 EST.
“We have been waiting more than two years to send this payload into the lead, and the space weather conditions we experienced today were ideal. Preliminary assessments suggest that all aspects of the rocket, its payload and the supporting observatories worked as intended. “We had not dared to hope for such a perfect fit of conditions, and certainly not on the first day of our launch window,” said Conde.
The density of the Earth’s atmosphere is consistent across the globe for a given height, and decreases significantly as the altitude increases. About 250 miles (402 kilometers) above the Earth at the top is an air pocket that is about one and a half times denser than the atmosphere elsewhere on the globe at that altitude.
You can not just increase the mass in an area by a factor of 1.5 and do nothing else, otherwise the sky will fall, Conde said.
With the successful launch of CREX-2, scientists will be working towards determining which forces support the extra mass found in this part of the atmosphere.
You can learn more about the rocket and its mission at NASA website.