A high altitude version of the Northern Lights may provide headwinds for some orbiting satellites, a new study reports.
The Auroras contribute to transporting air pockets into the earth's atmosphere Researchers of the new study increasing the resistance of spacecraft circulating at relatively low altitudes around the Earth
: "We These satellites knew they had "speed thresholds" or "upward motion" that slow them down in altitude, "said lead author of the study, Marc Lessard, a physicist at the University of New Hampshire. "But on this mission we were able to solve some of the mystery surrounding the event by finding out that the bumps are much more complicated and structured."
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The mission to which Lessard refers is the missile experiment for Neutral Upwelling 2 (RENU2), a short suborbital flight launched from Norway in December 2015.
The RENU2 rockets observed polar-moving polar light forms (PMAFs), which are weaker and less energetic than the "normal" northern lights that adorn postcards and posters.
PMAFs are also far higher and are up to 400 km off the ground, compared to about 100 km for their more well-known and picturesque cousins. PMAFs therefore transfer energy into the air in the upper part of the Earth's atmosphere, the study says.
And these "updraft events" can complicate the lives of passing satellites in low Earth orbit.
"One can think of satellites flying through air pockets or air bubbles [as being]similar to a lava lamp as opposed to a smooth wave" Lessard said .
The Auroras of Earth are created when charged particles from the Sun penetrate molecules in the atmosphere of our planet. This stimulates these molecules to higher energies and they give off light as a result. The color of this light depends on the molecule involved. For example, oxygen collisions produce yellow and green glow while nitrogen emits red, purple or blue when excited.
Earth's magnetic field pushes solar particles towards the poles of the planet, which is why the Auroras are usually confined to high latitudes. However, strong solar activity can increase the Auroras, increasing potency and extending geographic reach. This activity may also cause PMAF recovery events to become more significant, the researchers said.
The new study was published last month in the journal Geophysical Research Letters .
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