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Chemistry Corner with Dr. Melissa

Hi Red Door families! In case you did not know, NASA is hoping to launch a rocket into the ionosphere this evening between 9:04 and 9:19 pm EST. NASA does run a live Facebook event for the launch so be sure to check it out.  Here are some interesting notes on the launch in kid friendly terms for everyone to discuss.

Enjoy the light show tonight!

During the launch, NASA will drop 10 canisters of metal vapors – similar to the material used in fireworks – into the ionosphere of the Earth.  The ionosphere is a layer of tiny charged particles, like tiny magnets, created by the sun and other cosmic rays.  The ionosphere is located from about 50 to 360 miles above the Earth’s surface.  The metal particles released from the NASA rocket will allow the scientists to see the ionosphere moving around the Earth just like how weather patterns move clouds and dust in our atmosphere.  The ionosphere is important to understand because it impacts how radio waves and satellite communications travel on Earth. A solar storm or other space weather event can cause the ionosphere to black out radio signals for several minutes to hours and cause a GPS positioning signal to be wrong by 100 meters (the length of a football field!).  Not only is this an inconvenience for us when we are tying to use our cell phones, but imagine pilot trying to land a plane at night with no radio or GPS!  Like weather forecasters, when scientists learn more about the ionosphere they can develop better models to track the space weather and predict when an event might occur.  They can also invent better technologies that will work through even the worst cosmic storms.

During its orbit, the International Space Station captured some cool footage of “airglow”, or glowing particles that are naturally created in the Earth’s ionosphere.  This is an example of what the scientists are trying to recreate.  You can watch some videos of airglow at the NASA Visualization Explorer site:

I also think the lightning storms in the video are really cool!!

Have fun out there tonight!

Dr. Melissa Steffen P.h.D

Dr. Melissa is a friend of Red Door Early Learning Center.  She currently works for the U.S. Army and leads a scientifically diverse range of projects and serves as a mentor to other SMEs during test capability project development. She reviews DOD and Army strategic planning guidance and maintains organizational Strategic Plan.  In the past she has served as a physical scientist responsible for data collection of toxic gas and aerosol analysis during test and evaluation of warfighting equipment including automotive platforms, weapons, ammunition, soldier protective equipment, and live fire testing.  She currently lives in North East Maryland with her husband and two daughters.  She enjoys spending time with her family, and boating on the North East River.



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