On 4 January 2019, at 4:37 EST, the CAPER-2 mission launched from the Andøya Space Center in Andennes, Norway, a 4-speed Black Brant XII rocket. Reaching the apogee of 480 miles tall before bursting into the Arctic Sea, the rocket flew through the active northern light to explore the waves that accelerate the electrons in our atmosphere.
CAPER-2, shortened by Cusp Alfvén and Plasma Electrodynamics Rocket-2, is a sound rocket mission – a kind of spacecraft that brings scientific instruments to short, purposeful trips into space before returning to Earth. In addition to their comparatively low price labels and rapid development, rockets are ideal for launching into transient events – such as the sudden formation of northern lights or northern lights.
For scientists from CAPER-2, flying through glow, he looks at a process that is as fundamental as it is complicated: How do particles accelerate in space? NASA explores this phenomenon in order to better understand not only the cosmic environment surrounding the Earth, but also to protect our technology in radiation from the cosmos, but also to help understand the very nature of the stars and atmospheres in the solar system and beyond .
"Throughout the universe, particles are charged, accelerating – in the atmosphere of the sun, in the solar wind, in the atmosphere of other planets, and in astrophysical objects," said Jim Label, a space physicist at Darmuth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, of the CAPER-2 mission. "Aurora presents a local lab where we can observe these acceleration processes near us."
From a technical point of view, the CAPER-2 team is interested in what happens just before the glow of the glow. The electrons, which are poured into our atmosphere from space, collide with atmospheric gases and trigger the radiance of the glow. Somehow, they are speeding up the road.
"As they collapse in our atmosphere, these electrons travel more than 10 times faster than they used to be," says Doug Rowland, a space physicist at NASA's Space Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who is also exploring particle acceleration. "We still do not understand the fundamental physics about it."
The CAPER-2 team focuses on a special type of aurora that is formed during the day. Unlike the night glow, daylight is triggered by electrons that flow directly from the Sun – and we know much less about them.
"Great research has been done on the usual night-light of the night, but the daylight is far less studied," said Craig Klinging, a cosmic physicist at the Iowa University in Iowa City and a mission co-founder. "There are good indications that there are some similarities and there are some differences."
The team focuses on how electrons that create daylight shines are driven around by waves in ways that may or may not differ from the night glow. Two types of waves are of particular interest and have opposite effects. It is believed that the waves of Alfred called the Swedish Nobel laureate Hannes Alfred, who originally predicted their existence in 1942, accelerated electrons. These huge waves – ranging from tens to hundreds of miles from peak to peak – spread along the Earth's magnetic field lines, shattering electrons to and fro.
On the other hand, Langmuir waves are generated by electrons themselves – a process that steals some of the energy of electrons and slows them down. CAPER-2 will carry high-resolution wavelengths to measure them.
"This is very intense for the data," Label said. "This is unique to the sounding rockets to be able to see this mechanism at such a level of detail."
For the start, the CAPER-2 team travels to northern Norway, one of the few places that can put a rocket in the reach of daylight. Every day, Northern Norway rotates under an opening in the magnetic field of the Earth, known as the Northern Polar Cavity, where particles from the Sun can be transferred to our upper atmosphere.
Reaching the glow exactly where they are formed is the best way to understand the physical processes that are too big to repeat themselves in the lab.
"It's a natural lab," Labelle added. "We take our experiment in two different environments, where the variables are different, and then test the theory and answer the questions."
This winter, NASA plans to launch two missiles in Norway