NASA looks to improve space weather forecasts by tracking airglow in the atmosphere
NASA announced today that it has selected a new experiment for the International Space Station (ISS) to monitor space weather on a global scale. The US$42 million Atmospheric Waves Experiment (AWE) is slated to launch in August 2022 and will help scientists better understand and forecast potentially dangerous space weather events.
First detected by deflecting compass needles in the early 18th century, space weather is a phenomenon that is a major concern in the modern world. Put simply, space weather is the result of the solar winds interacting with the Earth's magnetic field. This can cause magnetic storms that threaten the health of astronauts and distort navigation systems, interrupt radio communications, blank out satellites and, if severe enough, damage Earth-based electronics and crash power grids.
To gain a better understanding of the mechanisms of space weather, AWE will be situated on the exterior of the ISS and be used to monitor bands of light called airglow, which appear in the Earth's atmosphere. The reason for this is that scientists suspect space weather is caused not just by solar ultraviolet radiation and solar winds hitting the magnetic field, but also by the interaction between these and the atmosphere.
According to NASA, by observing the light bands, AWE will provide data on how waves in the lower atmosphere produced by changes in the density of air packets in the upper atmosphere affect space weather. In this way, it will be possible to not only create better models of space weather, but also to find ways to predict adverse space weather and mitigate its effects.