Electric Blue Clouds Captured by the Balloon Mission of NASA are Simply Amazing

Electric Blue Clouds Captured by the Balloon Mission of NASA are Simply Amazing

PMC Turbo Mission is on its way to find some outstanding information about the turbulence in our atmosphere.

NASA launched a super pressure, football-stadium sized balloon on 24th April 2017 with the intentions of setting a record for flight duration while carrying a telescope. The balloon took off from an airfield in New Zealand and was expected to travel at a height of 110,000 feet above the Southern Hemisphere. The primary goal of this mission was to detect the ultra-high energy cosmic rays when they enter the atmosphere of the Earth. The telescope on this balloon has an ultraviolet camera attached to it which will capture 400,000 images per second. Angela V. Olinto, the Principal Investigator of the Project, explained the mission in the following words:

The mission is searching for the most energetic cosmic particles ever observed. The origin of these particles is a great mystery that we’d like to solve. Do they come from massive black holes at the center of galaxies? Tiny, fast-spinning stars? Or somewhere else?”

The latest addition in the series of balloon missions of NASA came in the form of the PMC Turbo Mission which was launched a couple of months back on the 8th of July from Sweden. The purpose of its launch was to study the Polar Mesospheric Clouds (PMCs) which are formed at an altitude of 50 miles above the surface. Recently, this long-duration mission analyzed these clouds for a period of 5 days as the balloon floated through the stratosphere from Esrange (Sweden). It traveled to Western Nunavut in Canada by moving across the Arctic.

During this journey, 6 million high-resolution images were taken by the cameras aboard the balloon. All these pictures accounted for 120 terabytes of precious data storage. A lot of these images showed the processes that ultimately lead to turbulence. Similarly, many of them had a variety of PMC displays. The early examination has led to some extremely promising results and scientists are hopeful that these photos will offer a lot more once they are analyzed in detail. Dave Fritts, the Principal Investigator of the mission at Global Atmospheric Technologies and Sciences in Colorado, said,

From what we’ve seen so far, we expect to have a really spectacular dataset from this mission. Our cameras were likely able to capture some really interesting events and we hope will provide new insights into these complex dynamics.”

Researchers believe that this mission might help them to improve the efficiency of weather forecasting as it will enhance their understanding of turbulence not only in atmosphere but also in lakes, oceans, other planetary atmospheres.

PMCs are also known as Noctilucent Clouds. They are formed when ice crystals present on the remnants of tiny meteors merge into each other in the upper atmosphere. Consequently, brilliant blue rippling clouds originate which can be seen in the Polar Regions during the summer once the sun sets. Atmospheric Gravity Waves, produced by the uplifting and convecting of air masses, affect these clouds as they play a massive role in transferring the energy from the lower atmosphere to the Mesosphere. Fritts mentioned that by saying,

This is the first time we’ve been able to visualize the flow of energy from larger gravity waves to smaller flow instabilities and turbulence in the upper atmosphere. At these altitudes, you can literally see the gravity waves breaking — like ocean waves on the beach — and cascading to turbulence.”

The payload of the PMC Turbo balloon includes 7 customized imaging systems. Each of them has a high-resolution camera, 32 terabytes of data storage, and a computer model and communications system. These imaging systems were arranged in a particular way which allows their wide view to cover 100 miles across while each of the narrow views can capture images as small as 20 yards wide. Another amazing feature called ‘Lidar’ has also been incorporated into this balloon. It is actually a laser radar which can measure the precise altitudes of the PMCs. In addition to that, it can also keep track of the temperature fluctuations of the gravity waves below and above the PMCs. Bernd Kaifler, the Researcher at the German Aerospace Center who designed the Lidar system, briefed the world about it and said,

We know the 2D wave structure from the images, but in order to fully describe the waves, we need to measure the third dimension as well. From the lidar measurements, we can infer the vertical structure of the waves, thus providing important data which would have not been available from the imaging experiment alone.”

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