NASA Space Place February 2018
This article is provided by NASA Space Place.
With articles, activities, crafts, games, and lesson plans, NASA Space Place encourages everyone to get excited about science and technology.
Visit spaceplace.nasa.gov to explore space and Earth science!









What Is the Ionosphere?
By Linda Hermans-Killiam

High above Earth is a very active part of our upper atmosphere called the ionosphere. The ionosphere gets its name from ions—tiny charged particles that blow around in this layer of the atmosphere.

How did all those ions get there? They were made by energy from the Sun!

Everything in the universe that takes up space is made up of matter, and matter is made of tiny particles called atoms. At the ionosphere, atoms from the Earth’s atmosphere meet up with energy from the Sun. This energy, called radiation, strips away parts of the atom. What’s left is a positively or negatively charged atom, called an ion.

The ionosphere is filled with ions. These particles move about in a giant wind. However, conditions in the ionosphere change all the time. Earth’s seasons and weather can cause changes in the ionosphere, as well as radiation and particles from the Sun—called space weather.

These changes in the ionosphere can cause problems for humans. For example, they can interfere with radio signals between Earth and satellites. This could make it difficult to use many of the tools we take for granted here on Earth, such as GPS. Radio signals also allow us to communicate with astronauts on board the International Space Station, which orbits Earth within the ionosphere. Learning more about this region of our atmosphere may help us improve forecasts about when these radio signals could be distorted and help keep humans safe.

In 2018, NASA has plans to launch two missions that will work together to study the ionosphere. NASA's GOLD (Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk) mission launched in January 2018. GOLD will orbit 22,000 miles above Earth. From way up there, it will be able to create a map of the ionosphere over the Americas every half hour. It will measure the temperature and makeup of gases in the ionosphere. GOLD will also study bubbles of charged gas that are known to cause communication problems.

A second NASA mission, called ICON, short for Ionospheric Connection Explorer, will launch later in 2018. It will be placed in an orbit just 350 miles above Earth—through the ionosphere. This means it will have a close-up view of the upper atmosphere to pair with GOLD’s wider view. ICON will study the forces that shape this part of the upper atmosphere.

Both missions will study how the ionosphere is affected by Earth and space weather. Together, they will give us better observations of this part of our atmosphere than we have ever had before.

To learn more about the ionosphere, check out NASA Space Place: **link**




This illustration shows the layers of Earth’s atmosphere. NASA’s GOLD and ICON missions will work together to study the ionosphere, a region of charged particles in Earth’s upper atmosphere. Changes in the ionosphere can interfere with the radio waves used to communicate with satellites and astronauts in the International Space Station (ISS). Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Duberstein (modified)


NASA Space Place December 2017
This article is provided by NASA Space Place.
With articles, activities, crafts, games, and lesson plans, NASA Space Place encourages everyone to get excited about science and technology.
Visit spaceplace.nasa.gov to explore space and Earth science!









Snowy Worlds Beyond Earth
By Linda Hermans-Killiam

There are many places on Earth where it snows, but did you know it snows on other worlds, too? Here are just a few of the places where you might find snow beyond Earth:

Mars
The north pole and south pole of Mars have ice caps that grow and shrink with the seasons. These ice caps are made mainly of water ice—the same kind of ice you’d find on Earth. However, the snow that falls there is made of carbon dioxide—the same ingredient used to make dry ice here on Earth. Carbon dioxide is in the Martian atmosphere and it freezes and falls to the surface of the planet as snow. In 2017, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter took photos of the sand dunes around Mars' north pole. The slopes of these dunes were covered with carbon dioxide snow and ice.



NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured this image of carbon dioxide snow covering dunes on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

A Moon of Jupiter: Io
There are dozens of moons that orbit Jupiter and one of them, called Io, has snowflakes made out of sulfur. In 2001, NASA's Galileo spacecraft detected these sulfur snowflakes just above Io's south pole. The sulfur shoots into space from a volcano on Io's surface. In space, the sulfur quickly freezes to form snowflakes that fall back down to the surface.



A volcano shooting molten sulfur out from the surface of Io. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A Moon of Saturn: Enceladus
Saturn's moon, Enceladus, has geysers that shoot water vapor out into space. There it freezes and falls back to the surface as snow. Some of the ice also escapes Enceladus to become part of Saturn's rings. The water vapor comes from a heated ocean which lies beneath the moon’s icy surface. (Jupiter’s moon Europa is also an icy world with a liquid ocean below the frozen surface.) All of this ice and snow make Enceladus one of the brightest objects in our solar system.



Enceladus as viewed from NASA's Cassini spacecraft. Credit: NASA

A Moon of Neptune: Triton
Neptune's largest moon is Triton. It has the coldest surface known in our solar system. Triton's atmosphere is made up mainly of nitrogen. This nitrogen freezes onto its surface covering Triton with ice made of frozen nitrogen. Triton also has geysers like Enceladus, though they are smaller and made of nitrogen rather than water.



The Voyager 2 mission captured this image of Triton. The black streaks are created by nitrogen geysers. Credit: NASA/JPL/USGS

Pluto
Farther out in our solar system lies the dwarf planet Pluto. In 2016, scientists on the New Horizons mission discovered a mountain chain on Pluto where the mountains were capped with methane snow and ice.



The snowy Cthulhu (pronounced kuh-THU-lu) mountain range on Pluto.
Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Beyond Our Solar System
There might even be snow far outside our solar system! Kepler-13Ab is a hot, giant planet 1,730 light years from Earth. It's nine times more massive than Jupiter and it orbits very close to its star. The Hubble Space Telescope detected evidence of titanium oxide—the mineral used in sunscreen—in this planet’s upper atmosphere. On the cooler side of Kepler-13Ab that faces away from its host star, the planet’s strong gravity might cause the titanium oxide to fall down as “snow.”



This is an artist’s illustration of what Kepler-13Ab might look like. Credit: NASA/ESA/G. Bacon (STScI)

Want to learn more about weather on other planets? Check out NASA Space Place: **link**




NASA Space Place November 2017
This article is provided by NASA Space Place.
With articles, activities, crafts, games, and lesson plans, NASA Space Place encourages everyone to get excited about science and technology.
Visit spaceplace.nasa.gov to explore space and Earth science!








Studying Storms from the Sky
By Teagan Wall
The United States had a rough hurricane season this year. Scientists collect information before and during hurricanes to understand the storms and help people stay safe. However, collecting information during a violent storm is very difficult.

Hurricanes are constantly changing. This means that we need a lot of really precise data about the storm. It’s pretty hard to learn about hurricanes while inside the storm, and instruments on the ground can be broken by high winds and flooding. One solution is to study hurricanes from above. NASA and NOAA can use satellites to keep an eye on storms that are difficult to study on the ground.

In Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria was so strong that it knocked out radar before it even hit land. Radar can be used to predict a storm’s path and intensity—and without radar, it is difficult to tell how intense a storm will be. Luckily, scientists were able to use information from a weather satellite called GOES-16, short for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – 16.

The “G” in GOES-16 stands for geostationary. This means that the satellite is always above the same place on the Earth, so during Hurricane Maria, it never lost sight of the storm. GOES-16’s job as a weather satellite hasn’t officially started yet, but it was collecting information and was able to help.

From 22,000 miles above Earth, GOES-16 watched Hurricane Maria, and kept scientists on the ground up to date. Knowing where a storm is—and what it’s doing—can help keep people safe, and get help to the people that need it.

Hurricanes can also have a huge impact on the environment—even after they’re gone. To learn about how Hurricane Irma affected the Florida coast, scientists used images from an environmental satellite called Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership, or Suomi-NPP. One of the instruments on this satellite, called VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite), took pictures of Florida before and after the Hurricane.

Hurricane Irma was so big and powerful, that it moved massive amounts of dirt, water and pollution. The information captured by VIIRS can tell scientists how and where these particles are moving in the water. This can help with recovery efforts, and help us design better ways to prepare for hurricanes in the future.

By using satellites like GOES-16 and Suomi-NPP to observe severe storms, researchers and experts stay up to date in a safe and fast way. The more we know about hurricanes, the more effectively we can protect people and the environment from them in the future.



To learn more about hurricanes, check out NASA Space Place: **link**


Caption: These images of Florida and the Bahamas were captured by a satellite called Suomi-NPP. The image on the left was taken before Hurricane Irma and the image on the right was taken after the hurricane. The light color along the coast is dirt, sand and garbage brought up by the storm. Image credit: NASA/NOAA




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