‘Edge of space’ begins 118 km above Earth

April 10th, 2009 - 1:23 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, April 10 (ANI): Using data received from a instrument sent to space on a NASA launch from Alaska about two years ago, scientists have located the ‘edge of space’, and have confirmed that it begins 118 km above Earth.

The instrument - called the Supra-Thermal Ion Imager - was carried by the JOULE-II rocket on January 19, 2007.

It traveled to an altitude of about 200 kilometers above sea level and collected data for the five minutes it was moving through the “edge of space.”

Designed by scientists at the University of Calgary (U of C), the new instrument is able to track the transition between the relatively gentle winds of Earth’s atmosphere and the more violent flows of charged particles in space - flows that can reach speeds well over 1000 km/hr.

The ability to gather data in that area is significant because it’s very difficult to make measurements in this region, which is too high for balloons and too low for satellites.

“It’s only the second time that direct measurements of charged particle flows have been made in this region, and the first time all the ingredients - such as the upper atmospheric winds - have been included,” said David Knudsen, associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Calgary.

“When you drag a heavy object over a surface, the interface becomes hot. In JOULE-II we were able to measure directly two regions being dragged past each other, one being the ionosphere - driven by flows in space - and the other the earth’s atmosphere,” said Knudsen.

According to Knudsen, “The results have given us a closer look at space, which is a benefit to pure research in space science.”

“But it also allows us to calculate energy flows into the Earth’s atmosphere that ultimately may be able to help us understand the interaction between space and our environment,” he said.

“That could mean a greater understanding of the link between sunspots and the warming and cooling of the Earth’s climate as well as how space weather impacts satellites, communications, navigation, and power systems,” he added.

According to Russ Taylor, the director of ISIS and head of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the U of C, “Understanding the boundary between the Earth’s atmosphere and outer space is fundamental to the bigger picture of the effects of space on the Earth’s climate and environment.” (ANI)

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