The horizon where the earth’s atmosphere meets space has some continent-sized electric currents in the sky, which are often centred where the sun is overhead. Now, NASA scientists are sending a rocket that would combine its observations with another satellite, which is already in orbit, to achieve a more advanced understanding of the electric phenomena. The rocket Dynamo - 2 is a sounding rocket, which means it is equipped to measure the specific distances in the atmosphere. Two of these rockets are timed to perform their measurements when NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer satellite is closest to the observation areas. According to NASA, the launches are set to happen between July 6 and July 20, and they will be broadcasted live on NASA Wallops Youtube channel. However, people living in the mid-Atlantic region (eight American states including New York) may see the rockets being launched in the sky.
The Dynamo mission will perform measurements and verify scientists’ theoretical assumptions. A similar mission was undertaken by NASA in 2013 that confirmed the theory of atmospheric tides, back and forth motion of parts of the atmosphere, like ocean waves hitting the beach, caused by wavy heat radiating from the ground. These tides cause high altitude winds, which drive the atmospheric dynamo producing giant electric currents, say scientists. However, the 2013 mission proved theoretical estimations of the strength of these winds wrong. Scientists estimated, based on observations from the ground, of low paced winds but measurements showed winds with speeds as high as 150 metres per second in the dynamo region.
“After two centuries of research, it is exciting to journey into space and observe dynamos that are part of our natural environment,” said Rob Pfaff, a NASA space physicist in a statement by NASA.
Fundamentally, a dynamo is a device that produces electric currents when three key ingredients are together -a magnetic field, a conductor and motion in either of them. In 1970, scientists had theorised the existence of atmospheric tides producing large pulsating electric currents in the sky, suggesting that Earth was a giant dynamo.