February 28, 2024


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‘First Light’ – NASA’s Atmospheric Waves Experiment captures first images of the mesosphere

‘First Light’ – NASA’s Atmospheric Waves Experiment captures first images of the mesosphere

Artist’s impression of AWE mapping the properties of global gravitational waves in the mesosphere. Credit: NASA

NASAThe Atmospheric Wave Experiment (AWE) recently captured first images of the mesosphere from its location on the Moon’s surface. International Space Station (International Space Station). AWE was installed on the space station on November 18, and initial commands were sent to the instrument on November 20. The recently captured first images, or “first light” images, represent a milestone that confirms that the device is performing as designed and intended. It works as expected.

AWE provides global-scale observations of atmospheric gravity waves (AGWs) in the mesopause, 54 miles (87 kilometers) above Earth. Once researchers are able to analyze AWE observations, they will be able to study how AGWs are formed by atmospheric events on Earth and transported through the Earth’s atmosphere. This will also help us understand the broader role of AGWs in the upper atmosphere known as the ionosphere, thermosphere and mesosphere and their impacts on space weather.

The first live images from the AWE tool

AWE’s Director of Ground Systems and Mission Operations, Pedro Sevilla of the Solar Dynamics Laboratory (SDL), along with Honorary Principal Investigator Michael Taylor and Principal Investigator Ludger Schirlis of the Utah State University College of Science, observed some of the first live images from the AWE instrument. It was sent from the International Space Station to AWE’s Mission Operations Center at SDL. Credit: SDL/Allison Beals

NASA’s Atmospheric Wave Experiment (AWE) is a cutting-edge space research initiative focused on studying atmospheric gravitational waves. These waves play a crucial role in the dynamics of the Earth’s atmosphere, especially in the upper layers such as the mesosphere, ionosphere, and thermosphere. AWE operates from its unique location aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

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One of AWE’s main goals is to observe and analyze atmospheric gravity waves (AGWs) in the mesopause, which is located about 54 miles (87 kilometers) above the Earth’s surface. By studying these waves, AWE aims to deepen our understanding of how atmospheric events at Earth’s surface generate these waves and how they propagate through the upper regions of the atmosphere and influence them. This research is vital to understanding the broader impacts of AGWs on the ionospheric, thermosphere and mesosphere system, particularly in relation to space weather effects, which have implications for satellite operations and communications systems.

AWE is led by Ludger Shirlis at Utah State University in Logan, and managed by the Explorers Program Office at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Utah State University’s Space Dynamics Laboratory built the AWE instrument and provides the mission operations center.