Strong Winds Power Electric Fields in the Upper Atmosphere

  • Released Monday, November 29th, 2021
  • Updated Wednesday, May 3rd, 2023 at 1:43PM

Using observations from NASA’s ICON mission, scientists presented the first direct measurements of Earth’s long-theorized dynamo on the edge of space: a wind-driven electrical generator that spans the globe 60-plus miles above our heads. The dynamo churns in the ionosphere, the electrically charged boundary between Earth and space. It’s powered by tidal winds in the upper atmosphere that are faster than most hurricanes and rise from the lower atmosphere, creating an electrical environment that can affect satellites and technology on Earth.

The new work, published today in Nature Geoscience, improves our understanding of the ionosphere, which helps scientists better predict space weather and protect our technology from its effects.

More information: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2021/strong-winds-power-electric-fields-in-upper-atmosphere-icon/

GIFLaunched in 2019, ICON, short for Ionospheric Connection Explorer, is a mission to untangle how Earth’s weather interacts with the weather in space. Radio and GPS signals zip through the ionosphere, which is home to auroras and the International Space Station. Empty pockets or dense swells of electrically charged particles can disrupt these signals.Credit: NASA

GIF

Launched in 2019, ICON, short for Ionospheric Connection Explorer, is a mission to untangle how Earth’s weather interacts with the weather in space. Radio and GPS signals zip through the ionosphere, which is home to auroras and the International Space Station. Empty pockets or dense swells of electrically charged particles can disrupt these signals.

Credit: NASA

GIFIn the ionosphere, high-altitude winds tend to push on chunky, charged particles more than small, negatively charged electrons. This separation between ions and electrons creates an electric field in the dynamo region, near the bottom of the ionosphere.Credit: NASA's Conceptual Animation Lab

GIF

In the ionosphere, high-altitude winds tend to push on chunky, charged particles more than small, negatively charged electrons. This separation between ions and electrons creates an electric field in the dynamo region, near the bottom of the ionosphere.

Credit: NASA's Conceptual Animation Lab

GIFOne source of atmospheric tides is created above rainforest regions around Earth’s equator such as the Amazon rainforest. In this region, daily cycles of cloud formation put energy into the atmosphere that, in turn, create a daily cycle of heating and cooling. The heating and cooling pushes wind patterns out and towards regions where clouds are forming. These winds eventually form an atmospheric tide that propagates up through the atmosphere.Credit: NASA's Conceptual Animation Lab

GIF

One source of atmospheric tides is created above rainforest regions around Earth’s equator such as the Amazon rainforest. In this region, daily cycles of cloud formation put energy into the atmosphere that, in turn, create a daily cycle of heating and cooling. The heating and cooling pushes wind patterns out and towards regions where clouds are forming. These winds eventually form an atmospheric tide that propagates up through the atmosphere.

Credit: NASA's Conceptual Animation Lab

GIFAtmospheric tides created by rainforests form a tidal pattern with three main peaks that span and move across the globe as Earth rotates.Credit: NASA's Conceptual Animation Lab

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Atmospheric tides created by rainforests form a tidal pattern with three main peaks that span and move across the globe as Earth rotates.

Credit: NASA's Conceptual Animation Lab

GIFAt 60-95 miles above the ground, winds associated with atmospheric tides (white arrows) move ions and separate them from electrons, forming an electric field (blue line) in the dynamo region. The electric field permeates through the upper atmosphere and pushes plasma (pink) upwards and downwards like a fountain at 370 miles above Earth’s surface.Credit: NASA's Conceptual Animation Lab

GIF

At 60-95 miles above the ground, winds associated with atmospheric tides (white arrows) move ions and separate them from electrons, forming an electric field (blue line) in the dynamo region. The electric field permeates through the upper atmosphere and pushes plasma (pink) upwards and downwards like a fountain at 370 miles above Earth’s surface.

Credit: NASA's Conceptual Animation Lab

ANIMATION

One source of atmospheric tides is created above rainforest regions around Earth’s equator such as the Amazon rainforest. In this region, daily cycles of cloud formation put energy into the atmosphere that, in turn, create a daily cycle of heating and cooling.

The heating and cooling pushes wind patterns out and towards regions where clouds are forming. These winds eventually form an atmospheric tide that propagates up through the atmosphere.

At 60-95 miles above the ground, winds associated with atmospheric tides (white arrows) move the chunky, charged ions and separate them from the small, negatively charged electrons, forming an electric field (blue line) in the dynamo region, near the bottom of the ionosphere.

The electric field permeates through the upper atmosphere and pushes plasma (pink) upwards and downwards like a fountain at 370 miles above Earth’s surface.

Credit: NASA's Conceptual Animation Lab

InfographicCredit: NASA/Mary P. Hrybyk-Keith

Infographic

Credit: NASA/Mary P. Hrybyk-Keith

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NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center