Scientists to investigate the flow of electrons forming the Northern Lights

The ACES II mission is to investigate the circulation of electrons in the earth’s magnetosphere, which leads to the formation of the northern lights. It consists of two vehicles that will make a suborbital flight at the same time. Scientists want to understand what is happening in the ionosphere.

The aurora borealis. Source:

How does the aurora appear?

NASA is going to launch the Aurora Current and Electrodynamics Structures II (ACES II) mission from Norway. It will consist of two devices simultaneously performing a suborbital flight. The purpose of this experiment is to study the flow of electrons forming the aurora.

They occur when moving electrons along the magnetic field lines fly into the atmosphere at the magnetic poles of the Earth. They collide with gas molecules, transfer energy to them and make them glow.

But nothing comes from nowhere. In order for this phenomenon to continue, there must be a constant circulation, a flow of electrons. First they rise from the earth’s atmosphere, reach the field lines at a certain height and then fly away to the poles.

ACES II will study the flow of electrons

Until now, scientists have only studied the places where electrons return to the atmosphere and where they escape from it. No one has studied what happens in the middle section of this circle, which is located in the ionosphere at an altitude of several hundred kilometers.

The ionosphere should be a very chaotic place. So it’s not just the electrons rising from the surface that collide with the magnetic field lines here. Charged particles of cosmic radiation are flying towards them. Together they face the field lines and interact in a certain way.

How exactly should ACES II find out. Scientists expect to wait until a “spot” of the northern lights appears over the magnetic pole. Then the first of the mission devices starts. It will rise to a height of 410 km.

Two minutes after that, the rocket with the second vehicle will launch. Its flight altitude will be 159 km. Due to the fact that the launch sites and directions of movement of both probes will be the same, they will be able to simultaneously observe the same point above the Earth’s surface. 

By comparing how the flow of electrons enters and exits the earth’s atmosphere and what is observed in the ionosphere, scientists will be able to understand how this circulation works in general.

According to

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