Strange shapes detected in Earth’s upper atmosphere: ScienceAlert

NASA scientists have discovered something that looks like alphabet soup in… ionospherea part of Earth’s atmosphere located between 48 and 965 kilometers (30 to 600 miles) above our heads – and the discovery may help improve space weather forecasts and radio communications.

Shapes like this have been discovered before, but Global scale notes for limbs and disc The GOLD imaging tool used here gives us our best look at it yet – revealing strange X and C shapes that appear at unexpected times and in some surprising places.

The ionosphere becomes electrically charged during the day when sunlight hits it, and this creates plasma bands of charged particles that are also affected by the Earth’s magnetic field. The peaks and bubbles of plasma form the shapes now observed.

One of the forms of X that scientists have observed. (Lascar et al., Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics2024)

Previous studies They showed merging peaks forming an

Computer models suggest that low atmospheric conditions could pull the plasma downward.

“Previous reports of mergers were only during geomagnetically disturbed conditions.” He says Fazlul Laskar, an ionospheric physicist at the University of Colorado.

“It’s an unexpected feature during geomagnetic calm conditions.”

Another discovery that has baffled scientists is the appearance C-shaped And Reverse C shape Bubbles in plasma. These shapes are thought to be created by the wind on the ground, just as wind directions affect how a tree leans.

C shapes in the atmosphere
Images from NASA’s GOLD mission show C-shaped and C-shaped plasma bubbles appearing close together in the ionosphere. (Dr. Karan et al., Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics2023)

But gold It has been monitored These cesium clouds formed surprisingly close together – sometimes about 634 kilometers (400 miles) apart – and again this suggests more local factors are involved, whether that’s wind shear, a hurricane, or something else. .

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At the moment, tight C-shaped fills appear to be relatively rare, and GOLD has only observed two so far. However, the researchers are keen to investigate them further, and find out why they are found in the ionosphere.

“At this close, no one had thought of these two oppositely shaped plasma bubbles, and they had never been photographed,” He says Ionospheric physicist Deepak Karan of the University of Colorado.

Plasma in the ionosphere is necessary for radio waves to be able to travel long distances, and discoveries in this area improve our understanding of how radio and GPS work.

Ionospheric disturbances such as those observed here can have an impact on important communications and navigation infrastructure.

This study and the GOLD data give us another example of how cutting-edge technology and innovations in scientific research are helping us understand more about the Earth and the universe around it – even as it constantly changes and evolves.

“The fact that there are very different shapes of bubbles so close together tells us that the dynamics of the atmosphere are more complex than we expected.” He says “This is a very interesting finding,” said astrophysicist Jeffrey Klinzing of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, who was not directly involved in the study.

The research was published in Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics.

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