Payload: VISIONS Project Scientist Doug Rowland stands next to the payload during the final days of testing NASA

NASA Prepares To Launch Rocket Into The Heart Of The Northern Lights

The VISIONS mission will give scientists an inside look at how the optical phenomenon influences Earth’s atmosphere.

By Emily Elert
Posted 02.07.2013 at 8:55 am

NASA scientists in Poker Flats, Alaska, have been waiting since Saturday for the right weather conditions to launch a sounding rocket into the green aurora-lit skies, where it will fly to an altitude of 500 miles and capture data and imagery from within and above the northern lights.

The team’s primary mission is to learn about how the heat from the aurora slingshots oxygen atoms away from Earth’s upper atmosphere and into space.

The aurora itself is a result of electrons flowing in the opposite direction, from the outermost atmosphere toward Earth’s surface. Ions are always traveling along the planet’s magnetic field lines, but sometimes, traffic along the lines suddenly spikes, and inbound electrons come streaming toward Earth and collide with atoms of oxygen and nitrogen in the upper atmosphere, and those atoms get momentarily excited and release photons of red or green light to calm back down.

Read more: NASA Prepares To Launch Rocket Into The Heart Of The Northern Lights | Popular Science.

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