NASA Wants To Fire Rockets Through The Northern Lights

By Dan Lawrence | 2 months ago

geomagnetic storm northern lights

The Northern Lights are one of, if not the most stunning natural phenomena in the whole world. The natural light show that oft occurs in the upper Northern hemisphere comes as a result of charged particles interacting with the Earth’s atmosphere. To better understand this beautiful marvel, NASA is planning to launch two rockets from a base in Alaska straight into the Northern Lights.

The Northern Lights, otherwise known as aurora borealis are, according to space.com, caused by the onslaught of solar winds colliding with our upper atmosphere and being directed to each of our earth’s magnetic poles. So yes, there are southern lights two. It is recognized by scientists as a particularly violent chemical event, which explains why NASA must be so keen to investigate the Northern Lights further, using rockets.

Live Science explains the phenomena further, stating that; “The dancing lights of the aurora form when charged particles from space crash into molecules in Earth’s upper atmosphere. These collisions boost the energy of the electrons in these atmospheric molecules, causing the electrons to orbit their nuclei at a higher energy state. When the buzz wears off, the electrons drop back down to their original energy state, releasing a photon, or particle of light, as they do so. These photons create the shifting curtains of green, violet and red seen at polar latitudes.” 

And this is all why a planned rocket launch by NASA is going to help further investigate the Northern Lights for a variety of different things. Led by Clemson University Astronomer Stephen Kaeppler, the two rockets that are set to be launched into the Northern Lights are fitted with an array of sensory tools. These tools will be measuring the likes of winds, temperatures, and density of the plasmas that lie within the aurora.

The Northern Light’s experiment was initially set to be carried out on Wednesday, with the two rockets to take off from the testing team’s base in Poker Flat, Alaska. Unfortunately, that launch was called off due to inclement weather, hopefully, the weather will turn around soon so Kaeppler and his team can gather the all-important data they crave. Delays aside, it is clear that Stephen Kaeppler is excited by the answers that lie within the Northern Lights, which he expressed via Nasa’s announcement of the experiment; “All of these factors make this is an interesting physics problem to examine.”

To many, the Northern Lights represent something far simpler, just a beautiful light show in the sky. Whilst that doesn’t mean to say that those thoughts are insignificant, this experiment just goes to show how exciting science can be. The natural world has so much to offer humankind and the Northern Lights are strict proof of that. As well as this, they serve as proof that there is so much about our world that we have yet to fully explore, or understand. For anyone left wondering, Science is cool and that is a fact.

To further prove that science is cool, one just has to examine other endeavors recently undertaken by NASA. Beyond the Northern Lights experiment, just days ago NASA revealed that since the early 90s, a whopping 5005 exoplanets had been discovered. Exoplanets are planets that exist outside of our Solar System.

As well as this, just a few months ago NASA announced a million-dollar prize fund behind their Deep Space Food Challenge. The challenge is designed to invite competitors to come up with the best solution to feed astronauts on deep space travel, such as space expeditions to Mars. So, be it exciting rocket launches into the Northern Lights, or pushing the boundaries of space discovery, there is never anything but exciting news coming from NASA.