The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has selected a new mission that will help scientists understand and ultimately, forecast the vast space weather system around the Earth. The mission titled as the Atmospheric Waves Experiment (AWE) is expected to cost around USD 42 million and it will be launched in August 2022, attached to the exterior of the Earth-orbiting International Space Station.
The experiment will focus on colorful bands of light in Earth’s atmosphere, called airglow, to determine what combination of forces drive space weather in the upper atmosphere. It was earlier thought that only the Sun’s constant outflow of ultraviolet light and particles, the solar wind, could affect the region.
The Atmospheric Waves Experiment is a Mission of Opportunity under NASA’s Heliophysics Explorers Program, which conducts focused scientific research and develops instrumentation to fill the scientific gaps between the agency’s larger missions. Since the 1958 launch of NASA’s first satellite Explorer 1, which discovered Earth’s radiation belts, the Explorers Program has supported over 90 missions. The Uhuru and Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) missions resulted in the conferral of Nobel prizes to their investigators.
However, researchers now have learned that solar variability is not enough to drive the changes observed and Earth’s weather also must be having an effect. Hence to understand this deeper, the mission will investigate how waves in the lower atmosphere, caused by variations in the densities of different packets of air, impact the upper atmosphere.