New radar system in the Arctic to study “space weather”.

The Northern lights are often heard about, but not seen often here in parts of the US. This phenomenon describes the effects on Earth’s wider environment as it is constantly bombarded by particles and magnetic energy from the Sun. The impacts can damage satellites and even disrupt electricity grids. The Sun perpetually billows clouds of magnetic energy and plasma (a gas of electrically charged particles) in all directions. But often great eruptions of this emission are directed straight at Earth. When these interact with our planet’s own magnetic field and atmosphere, they set off all manner of disturbances. The Aurora Borealis is one such consequence, as particles are accelerated downwards to collide with air molecules to produce colorful curtains of light in high-latitude skies.

The new radar system will be set up at Skibotn in Norway, near Kiruna in Sweden, and near Kaaresuvanto in Finland. Skibotn will have a transmitter and receiver array, while the two other locations will have receiver arrays. The technology will enable scientists to probe in detail the ionosphere – the region of the Earth’s upper-atmosphere that ranges from about 70km to 1,000km in altitude. It will sample the electron concentration and temperature, and the ion temperature and velocity at various heights along the radar beam direction.

EISCAT_3D will give us a 3D picture of interactions between space weather and our upper atmosphere with a detail we’ve not seen before, giving us answers to questions researchers have about the impacts of space weather on the upper atmosphere. EISCAT_3D should come online in 2021.

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