Experts from NASA are examining an unusual region of the atmosphere above the North Pole – a funnel-shaped rip in the Earth’s magnetic field.
An unusual process takes place in the Earth’s atmosphere at high latitudes. Around noon local time, when the Sun is at its highest point, a funnel-shaped rupture occurs in the magnetic field of our planet.
This is a serious problem, since the magnetic field protects our planet from the solar wind, in other words, the flow of charged particles spewed out by the sun. Due to the rupture, the solar wind can enter the Earth’s atmosphere. Also radio signals and GPS behave strangely when they pass through this area. Over the past 20 years, scientists and spacecraft operators have noticed something else unusual – when spacecraft pass through this region, they slow down.
In this place, at an altitude of about 402 km, the spacecraft overcome serious resistance. This is because the air is noticeably denser there than elsewhere in spacecraft orbits around the Earth. But no one knows why this is happening.
To better plan spacecraft launch trajectories, NASA decided to send the CREX-2 spacecraft to explore the area. The mission is designed to measure a variety of factors that could potentially explain how dense air remains suspended.
One of the possible reasons is electrical magnetic effects in the ionosphere – the upper layer of the Earth’s atmosphere, which is ionized by the Sun – which means that it contains electrically charged particles. Electrodynamics can indirectly support denser air or cause heat that generates vertical winds to trap denser air. The CREX-2 has a set of instruments designed to measure these effects.
To launch a mission, a number of conditions must be met. The effect only appears around noon, but the sky must be dark for the tracers to glow. Therefore, CREX-2 is going to be launched in the middle of winter, when there is very little sunlight in the extreme northern latitudes.