Friday, June 23, 2023

Satellites record the auroras caused by carbon dioxide

 For the first time, data of "carbon dioxide auroras" taken from space have been analyzed by researchers.

The Northern Lights, also known as auroras, are a phenomenon that fascinates both scientists and everyday observers of the night sky. Although carbon dioxide molecule-associated auroras have been the subject of extensive research, very little is known about them. That might alter right now.

The word "aurora" may conjure up images of beautiful, sometimes reddish-green lights streaking across the sky. However, a wide variety of atmospheric electromagnetic emissions are connected to auroras. The vast majority of these emissions are invisible to the naked eye.

In a study that was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, an international team of researchers showed that satellites could make global observations of auroras that were linked to carbon dioxide.

Using satellite measurements, researchers presented global observations of carbon dioxide-associated aurora in a new study that was published in AGU Geophysical Research Letters.

We call these tiny flashes of colorful light auroras when charged particles like electrons and protons collide with the gases in the upper atmosphere of the Earth. When billions of these flashes occur simultaneously, the night sky appears to "dance" or move.

According to Arizona State University, an excited state of atomic oxygen occurs between 100 and 250 kilometers above the planet's surface, causing the typically observed green and red auroras.

However, charged particles interact with numerous atoms and molecules when they enter the atmosphere of the planet. One of these is carbon dioxide. Due to its presence in the lowest part of the atmosphere, the gas is known to act as a greenhouse gas. However, trace amounts of carbon dioxide are also found in the atmosphere at the edge of space.

During an aurora, the excited carbon dioxide molecules 90 kilometers above Earth produce infrared radiation. As a result, the planet's atmosphere emits more infrared radiation than is typically the case.

NASA's AIRS (Atmospheric Infrared Sounder) satellite was used by the international team to collect daily data on infrared energy emitted by Earth's surface and atmosphere.

The researchers discovered elevated carbon dioxide infrared signals during an aurora while analyzing the data. This dataset and analysis may be the first daily global observations of regions of the northern and southern hemispheres using this kind of satellite, although it was previously known that carbon dioxide became excited during aurora. The measurements, which span more than two decades, can be used to investigate energetic particle interactions in the atmosphere of the Earth as well as auroras.

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