GOLD and ICON of NASA to Explore the Ionosphere (Download PDF)


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NASA has announced two missions to explore the little-understood area of 96 km above Earth’s surface called Ionosphere. The Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD) mission was launched in January 2018, and the Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) will be launched later in 2018.

Image of AM radio transmitter

Image of AM Radio Transmitter

Image of AM radio transmitter

Key Facts About the Two Missions

  • The two missions are complementary to each other.

  • ICON will be in low-Earth orbit, at 560 km above Earth, like a close-up camera.

  • GOLD will be in a geostationary orbit over the Western Hemisphere, about 35, 398 km above the planet’s surface.

How Will the Two Missions Help the Scientist?

  • The position of GOLD will help in getting full-disk view of the ionosphere and the upper atmosphere every half hour.

  • Two missions can cooperate with each other when ICON passes through GOLD’s field of view and each mission can get a snapshot of the same region.

  • One of missions’ goals is to measure how upper atmosphere changes in response to bombardment of particles streaming from the Sun, tsunamis, hurricanes etc.

  • GOLD will also explore how upper atmosphere reacts to geomagnetic storms, which are temporary disturbances of Earth’s magnetic field caused by solar activity.

  • At night, GOLD will examine disruptions in ionosphere, which are mainly dense, unpredictable bubbles of charged gas that appear over equator and tropics and some interfere with radio communications.

What is Ionosphere?

  • The ionosphere is the ionized part of Earth’s upper atmosphere, from about 60 km to 1, 000 km altitude, a region that includes the thermosphere and parts of the mesosphere and exosphere.

  • The ionosphere is ionized by solar radiation.

  • It plays an important role in atmospheric electricity.

  • It forms the inner edge of the magnetosphere.

  • It has practical importance because, among other functions, it influences radio propagation to distant places on Earth.

- Published/Last Modified on: March 15, 2018

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