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Rocket Launch Into the Aurora Borealis

24 Feb 2017, 4:01 pm

[Image credit: NASA/Terry Zaperach]

On Wednesday, Dartmouth University researchers at the Poker Flat Research Range in Alaska launched a rocket into the aurora borealis. According to NASA, this is the first of four rockets scheduled to be sent into the “northern lights”.

AURORA ROCKET LAUNCH: Early this morning, Feb. 22nd at 1 am local time in Alaska, researchers from Dartmouth University…

Posted by on Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Black Brant IX sounding rocket carried instruments to an altitude of 225 miles as part of the Ionospheric Structuring: In Situ and Groundbased Low Altitude StudieS or ISINGLASS mission.

ISINGLASS, includes the launch of two rockets with identical payloads that will fly into two different types of auroras – an inverted-V arc and a dynamic Alfenic curtain. The launch window for the second rocket runs through March 3.

Phil Eberspeaker, chief of the Sounding Rocket Program office, said, “It was good to successfully launch the first of the two rockets for the ISINGLASS mission. Now our attention turns towards launching the remaining ISINGLASS rocket and the two rockets for the Neutral Jets in Auroral Arcs mission.”

[Credits: NASA/Jamie Adkins from Poker Flat Research Range, Alaska]

According to Facebook post from, “The rocket deployed an array of 5 payloads to sample plasmas and map electromagnetic fields in the auroral zone. The goal of the mission is to understand how the visual appearance of the auroras correlates with the lights’ underlying particles and fields.”

“Auroras can appear flame-like, but the movements are slower than that of a flame, and their structures can be more orderly,” says ISINGLASS principal investigator Dr. Kristina Lynch of Dartmouth College. “We are seeking to understand what structure in these visible signatures can tell us about the electrodynamics of processes higher up.”

Rob Pfaff, scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the principal investigator for the Auroral Arcs mission, said, “Electric fields drive the ionosphere which in turn are predicted to set up enhanced neutral winds within an aurora arc. This experiment will seek to understand the height-dependent coupling processes that create localized neutral ‘jets’ within the aurora and their associated heating and neutral structuring.”

[Image credit: NASA/Terry Zaperach]

The ISINGLASS payload includes the deployment of a sub-payload and also several instrumented deployable canisters. The use of these various miniature subsystems and the main payload will give researchers a multipoint view of spatial structures within the aurora.

In addition to the remaining ISINGLASS rocket, two additional rockets supporting the Neutral Jets in Auroral Arcs mission await launch prior to March 3.

For WeatherNation: Meteorologist Mace Michaels

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