NASA Rockets Set to Probe the Moon’s Shadow During Upcoming Eclipse


When the Moon closes between the Earth and the Sun, leaving some parts of our planet with daylight, three rockets will take to the sky to see how that brief moment of darkness affects the world.

On April 8, NASA will launch three sounding rockets from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia to study ionosphere disturbances during the solar eclipse. The rockets will launch at three different times; 45 minutes before, during, and 45 minutes after the time of the eclipse, according to NASA.

The sudden disappearance of the Sun affects part of the Earth’s atmosphere, causing disruptions that can disrupt Earth’s communication channels.

The ionosphere is part of the earth’s atmosphere, and forms the boundary between the lower atmosphere and the atmosphere. It contains many electrically charged atoms and molecules, and it reflects and interferes with the radio waves used to communicate with our communication systems. At night, the ionosphere shrinks because it no longer receives sunlight, which emits atoms and molecules. Because, previously ionized particles are free and recombin in neutral particles.

“Understanding the ionosphere and developing models that can help us predict disturbances is critical to the success of our communication-dependent world,” said Aroh Barjatya, a professor of engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida, and the mission’s chief scientist. , he said in his speech.

The upcoming eclipse provides an opportunity to study the changes in the ionosphere during the rapid sunset, which is where the Sun’s light fades in time. Each of these rockets will release four instruments the size of a two-liter soda bottle to measure interference in the ionosphere, which will help scientists improve current models that predict interference in communication systems, according to Barjatya.

Sounder rockets, or research rockets, carry scientific instruments to suborbital space along a similar trajectory. In addition to the rockets that measure most of the ionosphere, groups on the ground will also be making measurements using different methods.

The same rockets were previously launched from the White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico, during the October 2023 solar eclipse. The rockets got some new weapons and were re-engineered for use during the upcoming eclipse. During the previous eclipse, the rocks measured the slowness of the particles in the atmosphere.

“We saw radio interference in the second and third rockets, but not in the first rocket before the eclipse,” Barjatya said. “We are very excited to run it again during the total eclipse, to see if the disturbances start at the same distance and if their size and magnitude are not the same.”

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