ICON and GOLD teaming up to explore Earth’s interface to pace
04 January 2018
Like Earth, space has weather. Except instead of swirling winds and downpours of precipitation, space weather is defined by shifting electric and magnetic fields and rains of charged particles. At the very beginning of space, starting just 60 miles above Earth's surface, there's a layer of the atmosphere that shifts and changes in concert with both types of weather.
Above the ozone layer, the ionosphere is a part of Earth's atmosphere where particles have been cooked into a sea of electrically-charged electrons and ions by the Sun's radiation. The ionosphere is comingled with the very highest — and quite thin — layers of Earth's neutral upper atmosphere, making this region an area that is constantly in flux undergoing the push-and-pull between Earth's conditions and those in space. Increasingly, these layers of near-Earth space are part of the human domain, as it's home not only to astronauts, but to radio signals used to guide airplanes and ships, and satellites that provide our communications and GPS systems. Understanding the fundamental processes that govern our upper atmosphere and ionosphere is crucial to improve situational awareness that helps protect astronauts, spacecraft and humans on the ground.
Image credit: NASA Goddard's Conceptual Image Lab/B. Monroe - ICON air glow at night