Rockets to decorate sky with brilliant light

Release Date: 
Friday, February 21, 2003


Four rockets are scheduled to launch in rapid succession from Poker Flat Research Range when the weather is clear and calm and aurora conditions are suitable between February 22 and March 10 as part of a mission to study high-latitude heating during an auroral substorm event.

Two of the rockets in the JOULE experiment each will carry instruments to measure light and small-scale electrical currents in the upper atmosphere.

The last two rockets in the experiment will release brilliant white chemical tracers to measure wind and turbulence in the upper atmosphere. The harmless chemical tracers are expected to be visible as far south as Anchorage and as far north as Arctic Village and Kaktovik.

The luminous tracers will be photographed at ground stations at the range, at Coldfoot and at Fort Yukon to help scientists determine the speed and direction of wind in the upper atmosphere. Similar in concept to the jet stream, the wind in the upper atmosphere is created by electrical currents in the aurora.

Wind created by the aurora can affect the orbits of satellites and interfere with long-range radio and satellite transmissions. Information gained from the rocket flights will help scientists design, track and operate satellites and other manmade space systems more effectively.

Clemson University Professor Miguel Larsen, from South Carolina, is the principal investigator for the JOULE mission. The mission is named after Joule heat, which is the heat evolved when current flows through a medium having electrical resistance.

Poker Flat Research Range, located 30 miles northeast of Fairbanks, is owned and operated by the Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska Fairbanks under contract to NASA.

Miguel Larson’s current projects on the Web:

Miguel Larsen, JOULE Mission Principal Investigator:
(907) 455-2110 (Poker Flat Research Range), late afternoon and evening hours only

Vicki Daniels, Public Relations Specialist, UAF Geophysical Institute:
(907) 474-5823 or via email at