Successful launch of aurora research rocket to study ʻsurfingʼ electrons

Release Date: 
Tuesday, November 9, 2010


A sub-orbital sounding rocket was successfully launched this morning, at 12:39 AM, from Poker Flat Research Range. The rocket, a Black Brant XII, captured measurements to deduce characteristics about the processes that create the aurora. The project is called the Rocket Auroral Correlator Experiment (RACE).

The rocket flew 500 miles high to obtain measurements that will help scientists understand the interactions between waves and particles in the aurora. Measurements also will help scientists figure out how energy is exchanged between electric fields, magnetic fields and the upper atmosphere. A key part of this energy exchange involves electrons that ‘surf’ on electric field waves. The goal of the experiment is to understand exactly which parts of the waves the ‘surfing’ electrons use.

A unique aspect of this experiment was the rocket’s payload. The instruments in the payload were custom designed to take measurements much faster than similar instruments used in the past. This new technology is part of an ambitious attempt to develop new techniques for measuring wave-particle correlations.

Researcher Craig Kletzing, the principal investigator of the rocket launch, is an associate professor in the Physics and Astronomy Department at the University of Iowa. His group built instruments for the experiment that measured electrons and their relationship to electric field waves. Also participating in the experiment was Professor James LaBelle of Dartmouth College, who built instruments that measured the waves themselves. These researchers are now analyzing the data transmitted from their instruments during the flight.

Poker Flat Research Range, on 5,132 acres of land, is owned by the University of Alaska and operated by the Geophysical Institute under contract to NASA.

For more information, contact:
Geophysical Institute Public Relations Specialist Vicki Daniels: (907) 474-5823