Why NASA is sending rockets into Earth’s leaky atmosphere

  • Released Thursday, November 14, 2019

In the tiny Arctic town of Ny-Ålesund, where polar bears outnumber people, winter means three months without sunlight. The unending darkness is ideal for those who seek a strange breed of northern lights, normally obscured by daylight. When these unusual auroras shine, Earth’s atmosphere leaks into space.

NASA scientists traveled to Ny-Ålesund to launch rockets through these auroras and witness oxygen particles right in the middle of their escape. Piercing these fleeting auroras, some 300 miles high, would require strategy, patience — and a fair bit of luck. This was NASA’s VISIONS-2 mission, and this is their story.

VISIONS-2 was just the first of many. Over the coming months, rocket teams from all over the world will launch rockets into this region as part of the Grand Challenge Initiative—Cusp, an international collaboration to study the mysteries of the polar atmosphere.

Watch this video on the NASA Goddard YouTube channel.

Complete transcript available.

Music credits: “Journey to the Past”, “New Philosopher”, “Curiosity Cabinet”, “Buzzing Culture”, “Dusk Theories”, “At the Edge of the End” by Laurent Dury [SACEM]; “Strong Voices” by Tom Caffey [ASCAP]; “The Fortune Teller” by Phil Stevens [PRS]; “Shinobi’s Fight” by Benoit Malis [SACEM]; “Spring into Life” by Oliver Worth [PRS]

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NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Release date

This page was originally published on Thursday, November 14, 2019.
This page was last updated on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 at 1:45 PM EDT.


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