The electrical grid behind the northern lights

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Above us, electrons from space enter our atmosphere, where they move along Earth’s magnetic field lines and collide with gases. This causes the impressive glow of color that we know as the Southern Lights and Northern Lights.

In fact, these clouds of color are part of an electrical network that connects Earth to space. Not only does the flow of electrons head towards us, after bending about 80 kilometers from the Earth and following the curvature of the Earth through the ionosphere, the flow also rises back towards space. But what exactly happens between the downward current and the rising again current, other than the collision of the gases, we do not know.

To date, most research on these currents has been conducted from above the ionosphere. NASA wants to change that. Two rockets must take measurements at the same time. One flies high and measures the inflow and outflow, and the other flies low and at the same time records the interaction in the ionosphere. For a few minutes, each one will capture a different part of the scene, before returning to Earth.

Hopefully, the result will be data that can tell us more about what exactly happens between the inflow and outflow.

Just read: Rockets to detect the electrical circuit that powers the Northern Lights.

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