NASA rockets to search for tornado-like vortices in Earth’s upper atmosphere

NASA rockets to search for tornado-like vortices in Earth's upper atmosphere

Buoyancy waves often leave “ripples” in clouds like those seen over the Pacific Ocean in this image from NASA’s Terra satellite captured on Oct. 4, 2020. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory/Joshua Stevens

NASA’s rocket team is searching for giant tornado-like vortices in the upper atmosphere. These whirlpools, or eddies, may be key to weather patterns in the upper atmosphere that affect the entire globe. The Vorticity Experiment or VortEx mission is preparing for launch on March 17, 2023, from the Andøya Space Center in Andenes, Norway.

If you’ve ever stood on top of a mountain or a tall building, you’ve probably noticed how high up there it is. High-altitude winds are included in the plans of architects and the routes of pilots, but their impact on our planet extends far beyond the typical human domain. These winds are sources of buoyancy waves: giant pulses of energy that drive changes at Earth’s interface out into space.

Buoyancy waves are common on Earth. “It could come from storm approach fronts, or winds hitting mountains and then being sent upwards,” said Gerald Lemacher, a professor of physics at Clemson University in South Carolina and the principal investigator of the vortex experiment, or vortex.

Float waves form when a storm or turbulence suddenly pushes denser air up into an area of ​​low pressure, causing oscillation as the atmosphere tries to return to equilibrium. These oscillations cause the waves to propagate away from the disturbance, similar to ripples in a pond.

Although float waves are common, their effects higher in the atmosphere are still not well understood.

“In a broad sense, this experiment is about learning about the fate of buoyancy waves at the edge of space,” Lemacher said.

VortEx is looking for one destiny in particular: swirls. As buoyancy waves move upward and pass through stable layers of our atmosphere, computer models have shown that they can form giant eddies of air.

NASA rockets to search for tornado-like vortices in Earth's upper atmosphere

One of the missile payloads is being transported to the launch track in Andenes, Norway. Credit: NASA

“They can turn into vortices – this can happen everywhere in the atmosphere, but we simply don’t have the measurements to know it,” Lehmscher said.

Thought to extend tens of miles from one side to the other, these eddies are too large to measure by conventional methods. The Lehmacher VortEx designed to overcome this limitation, measuring winds at widely spaced locations.

The mission will use four missiles, two fired simultaneously. Each pair consists of one high and one low flyer, which are fired a few minutes apart. The high-flying plane, which will peak at about 224 miles (360 kilometers), will measure wind speed. Flying low, as high as about 87 miles (140 kilometers), will measure the density of the air, affecting how eddies form. The two missiles will run their measurements for a few minutes before falling back into the Norwegian Sea.

To measure winds, a high-flying rocket would shoot out glowing clouds like those used in fireworks displays, tracking their movements from the ground. Most experiments of this type release clouds from the rocket’s payload. But to spread out the clouds to reveal larger patterns, VortEx will eject four sub-loads at once, each up to 25 miles (40 kilometers) from the missile before releasing their clouds.

This will occur in four different states during the flight, for a total of 16 clouds at different heights and distances, which will help show large-scale patterns. As these clouds are seen moving, the VortEX team will look for any telltale signs of a turn. The team would then repeat the experiment, firing the second pair of rockets in different weather conditions either later that night or a few days later (depending on when is right).

The VortEx team will also monitor the float waves from below. The Alomar Observatory, operated by the Andøya Space Center in Andenes, Norway, contains the ground-based radar and imaging systems needed to detect buoyancy waves occurring in real time. The location also features the Scandinavian Mountains, which run the length of Norway from north to south. It is a regular source of buoyancy waves as the winds push towards the mountains and up into the sky.

If VortEx finds vortices, it will be a major step forward in understanding upper atmosphere weather, which affects navigation and GPS communication signals. Current computer models of upper atmosphere weather still struggle to explain the effects of float waves. Eddies could be the key, Lehmacher says, because they are more predictable than buoyancy waves themselves.

“Vortic structures follow certain universal rules that we can put into the models to make them work at these scales,” Lemacher said. rather than tracking individuals float Waves, you can only describe as a spectrum of whirlpools.”

the quote: NASA Rockets to Search for Hurricane-like Swirls in Earth’s Upper Atmosphere (2023, March 17) Retrieved March 17, 2023 from earth .programming language

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