NASA has selected two proposals to better understand the fundamental nature of space and the way it changes in response to atmospheres in planets, solar radiation, and interstellar particles. Both of these proposals under the Heliophysics Science Mission of Opportunity will get $400,000 each for conducting a mission concept study over a period of nine months. Here’s a look at the two proposals that have been accepted by NASA.
Spatial/Spectral Imaging of Heliospheric Lyman Alpha (SIHLA)
The SIHLA will be principally investigated by Larry Paxton at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. According to a NASA update, this project will be mapping the sky to determine the shape and the underlying mechanisms of the boundary between the heliosphere, area of the Sun’s magnetic influence, and the boundary which is called the heliopause.
The observations will gather the far-ultraviolet light, which is emitted from the hydrogen atoms. This particular wavelength is the key for analysing various astrophysical phenomena, which includes planetary atmospheres and comets since so many things of the universe are composed of hydrogen, explains NASA in a press announcement.
SIHLA will be focusing on tracking the velocity and distribution of the solar wind, which is the outpouring of particles from the Sun and thereby helping us to understand of what drives the structure in the solar wind and heliopause. This area of research is going through a rapid evolution because of the data from NASA missions like Voyager, Parker Solar Probe and Interstellar Boundary Explorer.
Global Lyman-alpha Imagers of the Dynamic Exosphere (GLIDE)
The GLIDE program will be principally investigated by Lara Waldrop at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. This program will be studying the variability in the Earth’s exosphere which is the topmost region of the atmosphere, by tracking the far-ultraviolet light emitted from hydrogen.
It would be help provide us with better ways to forecast and eventually mitigate the ways in which space weather can interfere with radio communications in space.
After these studies, the US space agency will be choosing one proposal for launching a secondary payload on NASA’s Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP). The space agency’s Solar Terrestrial Probes program is funding the Mission of Opportunity and the total cost is capped at $75 million.
The IMAP is scheduled for launch on October 2024 to orbit a point called first Lagrangian point (L1) which is between our planet and the Sun. The IMAP will be helping space researchers in better understanding of interstellar boundary region, where the particles from the Sun collide with material from the rest of the galaxy.
According to NASA, this distant area also controls the amount of harmful cosmic radiation entering the heliosphere, the magnetic bubble that shields our solar system from charged particles surrounding it. These cosmic rays from the galaxy and beyond can affect astronauts and can harm technological systems, explains NASA and could also be playing a role in the presence of life in the universe.