NASA’s ICON mission releases first batch of data on Earth’s ionosphere


NASA's ICON mission team has released its first batch of observations of the ins and outs of the Earth's ionosphere–the dynamic region high in the planet's atmosphere where terrestrial weather meets space weather. The satellite is designed to study changes in the ionosphere and the interaction between Earth's weather systems and Sun-driven space weather, with scientists hoping that a better understanding of this dynamic will mitigate its impact on communications and technology, in general.

The Ionospheric Connection Explorer's (ICON) observations were from its four instruments– MIGHTI, FUV, EUV, and IVM, which have been monitoring the ionosphere for eight months.

"We’re really excited to see the first data appearing from the ICON mission," said Scott England, the ICON project scientist at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia.

"For me, the real power of these data isn’t just seeing transformative things like the wind patterns throughout the whole upper atmosphere, but having all these observations available to us at once, so we can see the connections between the neutral and charged environment around Earth."

Newly-released data spans measurements gathered since the mission's launch on October 10, 2019. The information can be accessed through the University of California Berkeley's Space Sciences Lab.


Image credit: NASA Goddard's Conceptual Image Lab/B. Monroe

Data is divided into seven documentations. The first one contains the retrieved neutral wind velocity along the line of sight of one of the MIGHTI instruments. 

The second data product combines the line of sight winds from both MIGHTI's instruments to provide neutral wind vectors referenced to geographic and geomagnetic coordinate systems.

The third documentation contains the retrieved temperature of the thermospheric temperature identified from the shape of the O2 765 m band emission.

The fourth data holds the retrieved column density ratio of thermospheric atomic oxygen to molecular nitrogen.

Nighttime ionospheric O+ density profiles can be found in the fifth documentation, while the daytime profiles are in the sixth.

Lastly, the seventh documentation shows the density and velocity of the plasma measured at the location of the ICON satellite.

ICON examines occurrences at the lowest boundary of space, from about 89 to 579 km (55 to 360 miles) above the surface. The mission explores the connections between the neutral atmosphere and electrically charged ionosphere.

Space weather in this region can also prematurely decay spacecraft orbits, possibly exposing astronauts to radiation-borne health threats.

Featured image credit: NASA Goddard's Conceptual Image Lab/B. Monroe


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One Comment

  1. I am waiting with great interest for the release of ICON data to clarify some doubts that we still have about the IONOSPHERE. I am a constant user of this ionosphere and I hope that this information can be added to my research and studies on the reflection of electromagnetic waves by the ionosphere.
    I greet all scientists of the ICON – NASA project.

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