Center for Space Science and Engineering Research

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Researchers at Space@VT study the geospace environment...

...including the effects of space-weather events on the structure and dynamics of the Earth’s atmosphere and ionosphere.

Using ground-based radar probes, sounding rockets, high-altitude balloons, and satellites, we investigate phenomena like the 2017 solar eclipse; effects of short and long duration solar variability on the Earth’s upper atmosphere; upper atmospheric dynamics, chemistry and radiation; coupling phenomena between the solar wind and the Earth’s magnetosphere; and polar mesospheric clouds.

ECE Team Installs Space Weather Instrument
An ECE team installs space weather instrument station for the 40-degree magnetic meridian chain in the Antarctic.

Geospace upper-atmosphere investigations

ECE researchers operate six autonomous, adaptive remote data collection platforms on the East Antarctic plateau. The platforms support fluxgate and induction magnetometers, dual frequency GPS receivers, and a high-frequency radio experiment to investigate high latitude space weather phenomena. Recent research has focused on magnetohydrodynamic wave events initiated by solar wind pressure pulses and seasonal interhemispheric differences in conductivity.

Exploring the upper atmosphere in the long polar night

A sounding rocket program is underway to explore the upper atmosphere of the Earth’s polar night. This region is difficult to access and is relatively unobserved. We are particularly interested in the concentration of aurora-produced nitric oxide—which is a catalytic destroyer of ozone. The long polar winter nights are expected to contain large levels of nitric oxide, but with few observations, this is not well understood. 

Sounding Rocket
To unlock mysteries of the geospace environment, ECE researchers send experiments up on sounding rockets and develop payloads for satellites.

Aeronomy of ice

ECE researchers are engaged in further studies of middle atmosphere gravity waves in NASA’s Aeronomy of Ice (AIM) mission. New algorithms to determine stratospheric gravity wave morphology will be applied to more than 10 years of AIM observations to form a unique dataset for studying the coupling of the Earth’s upper and lower atmosphere.

Impacts of space-weather events on the ionosphere

ECE researchers will be conducting atmospheric gravity wave studies via in-situ measurements of wave perturbations in the ionosphere and remote sensing of the middle atmosphere. These measurements can then be correlated with weather maps of the lower atmosphere, allowing for atmospheric coupling studies over a wide altitude range.

Radiative impacts of pollutants

ECE researchers are developing new instrumentation to observe the radiative impacts of pollutants. The new instruments are compact, robust, and suitable for implementation on constellations of satellites.

Virginia Tech SuperDARN HF radar facility
The Virginia Tech SuperDARN HF radar facility located in western Kansas.

Mapping geospace phenomena

The Virginia Tech Super Dual Auroral Radar Network (SuperDARN) operates five high-frequency (HF) radars. We are investigating cause-and-effect influences in the solar wind-magnetosphere-ionosphere system using a variety of ground- and space-based datasets. Recent research examined the north-south inter-hemispheric symmetry of the Sub-Auroral Polarization Stream (SAPS).

Mapping polar ionospheric field-aligned currents

An ECE investigation examined how the currents flowing in and out of the ionosphere respond to the interplanetary electric field, the product of the solar wind velocity and Earth’s magnetic field. We found that the magnetic field-aligned currents have a linear response to the level of solar wind driving, which was surprising since the electric fields in the ionosphere have been known to level off, or saturate, as the interplanetary electric increases.