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VISIONS: Seeing the Aurora in a New Light
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Image by NASA Goddard Photo and Video
NASA’s VISIONS sounding rocket mission (VISualizing Ion Outflow via Neutral atom imaging during a Substorm) is studying what makes the aurora, and how it affects Earth’s atmosphere. VISIONS Project Scientist Doug Rowland stands next to the payload during the final days of testing Poker Flats, Alaska before launch.

On Feb. 1, 2013, Rowland reports:

"Today was another great day at the range. We received final clearance to launch during our window, and completed vertical checks. The payload is in good shape, and is ready for the launch window, starting Feb. 2."

Credit: NASA/Goddard/D. Rowland

To read more about the VISIONS mission go to: www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/sunearth/news/visions-aurora.html

VISIONS: Seeing the Aurora in a New Light

A team of NASA scientists arrived in Poker Flats, Alaska at the end of January, 2013. The team is patiently waiting for the exotic red and green glow of an aurora to illuminate the sky. Instead of simply admiring the view, this group from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center of Greenbelt, Md., and The Aerospace Corporation of El Segundo, Calif. will launch a sounding rocket up through the Northern Lights. The rocket could launch as early as the night of Feb. 2, 2013, but the team has a two-week window in order to find the perfect launch conditions.

Armed with a series of instruments developed specifically for this mission, the VISIONS (VISualizing Ion Outflow via Neutral atom imaging during a Substorm) rocket will soar high through the arctic sky to study the auroral wind, which is a strong but intermittent stream of oxygen atoms from Earth’s atmosphere into outer space. The rocket will survive only fifteen minutes before splashing down in the Arctic Ocean, but the information it obtains will provide answers to some long-standing questions.

VISIONS is studying how oxygen atoms leave Earth’s atmosphere under the influence of the aurora. Most of the atmosphere is bound by Earth’s gravity, but a small portion of it gets heated enough by the aurora that it can break free, flowing outwards until it reaches near-Earth space. The atoms that form this wind initially travel at about 300 miles per hour — only one percent of the speed needed to overcome gravity and leave Earth’s atmosphere.

The principal investigator for VISIONS, Goddard’s Doug Rowland is providing images while the team prepares for launch.

VISIONS is a partnership between NASA Goddard and the Aerospace Corporation of El Segundo, Calif. The sounding rocket motors and payload support systems are provided by NASA Wallops Flight Facility, including NSROC, the NASA Sounding Rocket Operations Contract. The Poker Flat Research Range is operated by the University of Alaska under contract to NASA.

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NASA Goddard Space Flight Center enables NASA’s mission through four scientific endeavors: Earth Science, Heliophysics, Solar System Exploration, and Astrophysics. Goddard plays a leading role in NASA’s accomplishments by contributing compelling scientific knowledge to advance the Agency’s mission.

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