What does it mean when we are talking about the weather on Earth? We mean the temperature, the air pressure, the wind’s speed and direction in a certain area, or rain or snow pouring in a location. So, the weather basically implies the conditions in our atmosphere that keeps on changing from time to time.
There is a type of weather that exists in space as well. Yes, there are conditions in the space atmosphere that change with time. The continuous solar wind (Sun’s constant outflow of electronically charged particles) released from the sun’s atmosphere fills the space with tiny and flimsy bits of particles, fields, and plasma. This solar wind as well as other solar events such as giant explosions affect the space condition greatly and can interact with the magnetic systems of Earth. Such effects also alter the radiation environment in the space. This radiation from space weather can affect the working of satellites, including its aspects such as electronics, communications, and GPS signals. It can also harm astronauts or pilots flying jet airplanes.
Recently, NASA, the independent agency of the US Federal Government has come up with a new mission to understand and forecast the vast weather system around our planet. The aim of the experiment is to help scientists comprehend and forecast the vast space weather system around our planet. This is because space weather has the power to cause damaging effects on the radio and GPS communications, astronauts, and power grids.
According to the US space agency, the new mission called the Atmospheric Waves Experiment (AWE) is expected to be launched in August 2022, attached to the exterior of the Earth-orbiting International Space Station (ISS).
Estimated to cost USD 42 million, the AWE project focuses on colorful bands of light known as airglow in the Earth’s atmosphere to analyze the forces that trigger space weather in the upper atmosphere. Paul Hertz, NASA’s Director of Astrophysics said, “The Explorers Program seeks innovative ideas for small and cost-constrained missions that can help unravel the mysteries of the universe and explore our place in it. This mission absolutely meets that standard with a creative and cost-effective mission to solve mysteries about Earth’s upper atmosphere.”
Previously, it was thought that the solar wind could influence the region. Nonetheless, researchers now came to know that solar variability alone does not cause the changes that are observed but the weather of our planet also plays a part in this.
NASA said that the AWE mission would find out how waves in the lower atmosphere, which are formed by alternations in the densities of various air packets, influence the upper layers of the atmosphere. The agency also opted for the Sun Radio Interferometer Space Experiment (SunRISE), which is a constellation of spacecraft flying in a 10 km diameter formation and operating like one large radio telescope. This futuristic mission would find out the way giant space weather develops from the Sun known as solar particle storms are accelerated and released into space.