Scientists Launched Rocket to Study Northern Lights

The two-stage suborbital rocket blasted off from the Poker Flat Research Range just north of Fairbanks, Alaska, and reached a height of about 217 miles (349 kilometers) on  february  18 
 as part of a NASA-funded study into how the northern lights can affect signals from global positioning system (GPS) satellites and other spacecraft. Photos show the rocket as a dazzling streak of light soaring into a bright curtain of green hues created by the northern lights. Auroras are created when charged particles from the sun hit the Earth’s upper atmosphere, triggering a glowing light show. The charged particles are funneled to Earth’s polar regions by the planet’s magnetic field, creating the northern lights and their southern counterpart the southern lights. The sun is currently in an active phase of its solar weather cycle, which is expected to peak in 2013, and can pose an interference risk to satellites that provide navigation, communications and other services to users on Earth. Scientists used a 46-foot (14-meter) Terrier-Black Brant sounding rocket to probe a 6-mile (9.6-km) thick layer of the aurora. The suborbital rocket carried antennas and sensors to measure the electric fields spawned by the northern lights. The launch was dubbed the Magnetosphere-Ionosphere Coupling in the Alfven resonator (MICA) mission. The scientists hope the experiment equipment will offer a glimpse into how parts of the upper atmosphere are affected by so-called Alfven waves, a type of electromagnetic energy that scientists suspect to be a driving force behind Earth’s auroras.