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NASA to Send Rockets Into Aurora Borealis

The Northern Lights are one our planet's the most stunning natural phenomena and, to better understand this beautiful marvel, NASA is going to launch two rockets from a base in Alaska straight into the Northern Lights.

Three streaks of blue green stripes in the night sky

The Northern Lights, otherwise known as aurora borealis are caused by the onslaught of solar winds colliding with our upper atmosphere. Live Science explains the phenomena further, stating that: “The dancing lights of the aurora form when charged particles from space crash into molecules in Earth’s upper atmosphere. These collisions boost the energy of the electrons in these atmospheric molecules, causing the electrons to orbit their nuclei at a higher energy state. When the buzz wears off, the electrons drop back down to their original energy state, releasing a photon, or particle of light, as they do so. These photons create the shifting curtains of green, violet and red seen at polar latitudes.”

And this is all why a planned rocket launch by NASA is going to help further investigate the Northern Lights for a variety of different things. Led by Clemson University Astronomer Stephen Kaeppler, the two rockets that are set to be launched into the Northern Lights at any moment are fitted with an array of sensory tools. These tools will be measuring the likes of winds, temperatures, and density of the plasmas that lie within the aurora.

Stephen Kaeppler is excited by the answers that lie within the Northern Lights, which he expressed via Nasa’s announcement of the experiment: “All of these factors make this is an interesting physics problem to examine.”

To many, the Northern Lights represent something far simpler, just a beautiful light show in the sky. But soon we'll know more about the physics and OGN looks forward to sharing NASA's discoveries with you in due course.


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