NASA Almost Lost Their GOLD Satellite in the Earth's Atmosphere

Thursday, 25 January 2018 - 8:50PM
NASA
Earth
Thursday, 25 January 2018 - 8:50PM
NASA Almost Lost Their GOLD Satellite in the Earth's Atmosphere
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NASA
High above us, there exists a point where the Earth's atmosphere ends, and the black emptiness of space begins. Our planet's ionosphere is an important layer of particles that's wrapped around the Earth, and it's subject to constant change based on weather patterns and visitations from solar radiation and meteor debris.

Getting a good look at the ionosphere has always proven difficult. This highest layer of Earth's environment is too far out into space for traditional aircraft to accurately observe, but it's also far too low down for ordinary satellites to monitor, either.

In an effort to better analyze and investigate the ionosphere, NASA just launched the GOLD satellite (short for "Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk") this evening, a mission which yet again proves that somebody at the space agency really loves catchy acronyms. But there was an unforeseen problem during launch, and NASA abruptly lost contact with the rocket that's carrying GOLD for several hours before they finally tracked it down.




GOLD itself is a satellite of sorts, which will orbit around the Earth at the relatively close height of 22,000 miles in order to get some good photos and data from the ionosphere. It's a tiny little thing, around 80lb in weight and described by NASA as being "roughly the size of a mini fridge", whatever that means.

It's hoped that the footage captured by GOLD will allow us to get a solid look at how the ionosphere changes over time, and how weather patterns in the atmosphere as well as solar radiation will cause it to warp and shift. According to NASA's Elsayed Talaat:

Opening quote
"The first meteorological satellites revolutionized our understanding of - and ability to predict - terrestrial weather. We anticipate GOLD will give us new, similar insight into the dynamics of the upper atmosphere and our planet's space environment.

Just like an infrared camera allows you to see how temperatures change with different colors, GOLD images ultraviolet light to provide a map of the Earth that reveals how temperature and atmospheric composition change by location."
Closing quote


As for the currently missing craft that was holding GOLD among other cargo, a European Ariane 5 rocket, it initially took off without any trouble around 5 pm EST, making it through liftoff and the first stage engine ignition. But around the time the second stage engine ignited, it stopped relaying data.

It was about three hours later when the Ariane 5 was found again, and GOLD is now safely in orbit.



The satellite is useful because it would be interesting to see what findings come from looking closely at the ionosphere. We might soon be able to get a better idea of how weather patterns form on Earth, and how they are affected by forces in space - as well as vice versa.

Consider this a big step forward in our ability to understand our planet's atmosphere. Once we know what makes the ionosphere tick, we'll be in a better position to see storms coming long before they start to form.
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