Illustration for article titled When NASA shot a rocket into the Northern Lights to study mysterious waves

This is a fisheye view of a NASA-funded rocket being shot into the Aurora Borealis in Alaska.


In a move applauded nationwide, NASA has declared war on the sky. Obviously there's a lot of (metaphorical) ground to cover, but NASA, as well as scientists from a number of universities, started with the mysterious Alfven Wave. These waves are like waves traveling along, say, a stretched string. The string, in this case, is a magnetic field line. When the overall magnetic field is disturbed, say with a bunch of particles coming in from space, the the string propagates the wave. These waves show up as the long strings of green light that appear in the sky as part of the Aurora Borealis. Rightly thinking that this was a threat, NASA shot a Terrier-Black Brant rocket into the waves.

The rocket reached a height of 186 miles, and came down 200 miles away. It spent its time in the air measuring the particles it encountered, and the magnetic and electric fields it went through. With any luck, it will give us the information we need to take down this luminescent menace.


In the mean time: does anyone else think that Aurora and Alfven are the ultimate nerd names?

Image: Ryuho Kataoka/Tokyo Institute of Technology

Via MSNBC and UMN.

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