CONTACT: GARY GALLUZZO
300 Plaza Centre One
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0009; fax (319) 384-0024
Release: Jan. 18, 2002
Photo: Craig Kletzing,
project principal investigator and associate professor in the UI College of
Liberal Arts and Sciences department of physics and astronomy.
UI Researchers Launch Rocket To Study Northern Lights
of Iowa researchers plan to travel to Alaska in early February to launch a
sub-orbital sounding rocket designed to study the northern lights.
Craig Kletzing, project principal investigator and
associate professor in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences department
of physics and astronomy, says that the rocket launch for the Rocket Auroral
Correlator Experiment (RACE) will take place at Poker Flat Research Range
-- about 30 miles north of Fairbanks -- during active auroral conditions.
"The rocket will fly more than 500 miles into space
to obtain measurements that will help researchers to understand the interactions
between waves and particles in the aurora, and how energy is exchanged between
electric fields and electrons in the upper ionosphere," Kletzing says. "A
key part of the process that researchers are investigating involves electrons
which 'surf' on electric field waves. The goal is to understand exactly which
parts of the waves are used by the 'surfers' the electrons.
"A unique aspect of this experiment is the rocket's
payload. The instruments in the payload have been custom-designed to take
measurements much faster than similar instruments used in the past. This new
technology is part of an ambitious attempt to develop new techniques for measuring
wave-particle correlation," he says.
The project, being conducted during a period of a
solar maximum within an 11-year solar cycle, is a cooperative venture between
NASA, the UI and Dartmouth College. NASA is providing the rocket, while the
UI has built the experimental instruments, with the support of about $410,000
in NASA funds. Kletzing's colleagues include Jim LaBelle, co-investigator
and associate professor of physics and astronomy at Dartmouth College, and
UI instrument collaborators Scott Bounds, UI assistant research scientist,
and Jason Martin-Hiner, UI graduate research assistant.
The February 2002 UI rocket launch is the latest chapter
in a long line of distinguished University of Iowa research into the nature
of the northern lights. In December 2001, Kletzing and a research team, led
by UI researchers Robert Mutel and Donald Gurnett, reported finding a novel
way to remotely pinpoint the source of Earth's most intense, naturally occurring
radio noise. They showed the radio noise, called auroral kilometric radiation
(AKR), being emitted along magnetic field lines about 3,000 miles above bright
regions in the Earth's northern lights.
Also, in 2000, UI researcher Jack Scudder and an international
team of physicists advanced mankind's understanding of the northern lights
and related phenomena by making the first direct observations of the switch
that permits energy to be transferred between the solar wind and Earth. Additionally,
in 1986, UI researcher Louis Frank and his colleagues used NASA's Dynamics
Explorer 1 spacecraft to capture the first images of the complete ring of
the northern lights.