I read on an article that one of the biggest projects of NASA will postpone the launch in orbit .. in short, not a good news ..The launch of the ICON satellite (NASA) was postponed when the plane, which carried the Pegasus L-1011 rocket at high altitude, was already in flight. A technical problem has brought the crew to the ground and now it is not known when there will be a new attempt: from the first rumors it seems that it will not happen before November 15th.

Born to study the ionosphere, ICON (Ionospheric Connection Explorer), is a satellite that will explore one of the most complex areas of the Earth’s atmosphere. The ionosphere is that band of atmosphere that goes from about 80 kilometers to about 600 kilometers of altitude, where the solar wind, that is the flow of particles coming from the Sun, acts with such force that it can tear at the atoms and molecules that make up that band of atmosphere one or more electrons, so as to make it electrically “charged”.

Depending on the activity of the Sun, the ionosphere inflates and deflates. In a period of low solar activity like the one we are experiencing, for example, the ionosphere has a lower thickness than periods of increased solar activity. However, this layer is also sensitive to the action of what happens in the atmosphere below and therefore is found as “between two fires” that model it continuously: these variations, which are the scope of the study of spatial meteorology, are of considerable importance from the scientific and practical point of view.

The Falcon 9 and the hole in the ionosphere

The continuous variations in form and thickness have in fact an influence of no small regard on the satellites stationed there, on the many signals of communications between land and aircraft or ships and on the International Space Station and its crew, which are located about 400 kilometers in height.

TUG OF WAR. In the last ten years, studies on the ionosphere have highlighted the fact that inside it occur phenomena that require an explanation that goes beyond the influence of the Sun.

There are volumes of ionosphere where the concentration of charged particles, collectively called plasma, have behaviors that are probably also influenced by the hurricanes that are created in the lower atmosphere and by groups of clouds that move on the great rainforests. The winds of the high atmosphere carry energy that can change the flow of charged particles and this, in turn, creates electric fields that further influence the behavior of the particles in the ionosphere. In other words, the ionosphere is subjected to a tug of war between what happens beneath it and the action of the Sun.

Typhons, hurricanes … Why is nature ever more violent?

Airglow. A band, therefore, very complex and that until today has been difficult to study because it is too far from the terrestrial detectors. A satellite was needed to analyze it closely, hence the importance of the NASA satellite. ICON will also study the “tenuous glow” – called airglow – that is observed in the upper atmosphere and that envelops the entire planet in a red, green and yellowish bubble. It is a phenomenon similar to that of the aurora borealis (when the atmospheric particles, excited by the action of the Sun, emit light), but while the aurorae aurorae only appear at the poles, the airglow affects the entire planet. The study of the phenomenon will allow us to understand the variations in temperature, pressure and winds of the ionosphere.

ICON, which will position itself at about 570 kilometers of altitude, will work in parallel with GOLD (Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk), launched at the beginning of 2018, which orbits about 36,000 kilometers from the Earth’s surface to study the phenomenon of ionosphere in its entirety.

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