On January 29, two sounding rockets simultaneously flew through the veil of an aurora to collect data from both the top and bottom edges of the arc. Dr. Scott Bounds, the principal investigator for the Auroral Current and Electrodynamics Structure (ACES) mission, provided Universe Today with images from the flight, showing the rockets flying through the aurora, near Poker Flats, Alaska. The above image shows a single-stage Black Brant V rocket that flew through the lower portion of the aurora. It reached an altitude of nearly 83 vertical miles, flying for roughly eight minutes. (See below for more images.) Other rockets have flown through aurorae previously, but this is the first time two rockets were used together. These two flights for the ACES mission will provide insight on the structural subtleties of the aurora, finding details that researchers may have missed when previous measurements were done using only a single vehicle (see our original article on the flights).
The image here shows a two-stage Black Brant IX rocket launched at 12:49 a.m. on January 29 that reached an altitude of more than 226 miles and flew for just under 10 minutes.
Dr. Bounds of the University of Iowa said the payloads of each ACES rocket performed well during flight, and the ACES team will begin to analyze all of the data collected, which should keep them busy for the next year. Bounds said this information will help refine current models of aurora structure, and provide insight on the high-frequency waves and turbulence generated by aurorae.
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Thanks to Dr. Bounds for sharing these images with Universe Today, and to Dr. Craig Heinselman the photographer. Below is an image taken by Dr. Bounds of an aurora in 2002, taken where the ACES flights originate at the Poker Flat Research Range near Fairbanks, Alaska.