Yoav Yair (right) and a technician launch a balloon two weeks ago in Mitzpe Ramon..
(photo credit: COURTESY PROF. YOAV YAIR)
Five high-altitude scientific balloons will simultaneously rise to the skies on Wednesday from Mitzpe Ramon, London, Moscow, Siberia and Zaragoza.
Scientists are set to launch the balloons, which will carry with them cosmic ray detectors that can measure ionization rate from cosmic radiation as a function of altitude, at 11:30 GMT, according to the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya – the lead institution from the Israeli side.
By taking these measurements, scientists will acquire a snapshot of the widespread distribution of the electric state of the atmosphere – from ground level to a height of 35 km. This is the first time that an experiment of this kind has been performed on such a widespread international scale, the IDC said.
The overall purpose of the study, funded by the Israeli National Science Foundation, is to detect changes in the electrical parameters of the atmosphere with relation to solar activity, and explore how these processes impact the Earth’s climate, the participating institutions explained.
“For the first time on a continental scale we are doing simultaneous measurements,” Prof.
Yoav Yair, dean of the IDC’s School of Sustainability, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday evening.
Yair is leading the experiment along with Prof. Colin Price of Tel Aviv University’s Geophysical, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences Department and his research student Roi Yaniv. Internationally, Prof. Giles Harrison and Dr. Keri Nicoli from the University of Reading are participating, as well as Prof. Galina Bazilevskaya and Prof. Vladimir Makhmutov from the Lebedev Physics Institute in Moscow.
The Israeli academic team will be launching a balloon from Mitzpe Ramon, while the British academic team will send off their balloon from the University of Reading campus near London.
The Lebedev Institute will be launching the balloons in both Moscow and Murmansk, Siberia, while the Israeli firm Spacecialist will be launching a balloon Zaragoza, Spain, in conjunction with the Spanish firm Zero2Infinity – which will be responsible for that balloon’s GPS tracking and landing, the IDC said. The other four balloons will contain disposable detectors and will self-destruct when the balloons explode.
Solar cycles encompass about 11 years, during which there are differences in the number of sunspots, magnetic storms on the sun’s surface and radiation emissions occurring, the institutions explained. The last cycle achieved its peak just a few months ago, and solar activity is now declining – but at this time particularly there is a chance of strong outbursts, they said.
Such outbursts affect both satellites and astronauts in space, and their influence can be felt high in the atmosphere as well as near the Earth’s surface, the institutions added.
By launching these high-altitude balloons, it is possible to “get an idea of the electrical current that flows in the free atmosphere,” Yair explained.
“We are measuring the atmosphere in fair weather because there is a global electrical circuit of currents in atmosphere between regions of stormy weather and regions where there is fair weather,” he said.
In such regions of fair weather, which make up the majority of the planet, a small but continuous downward current occurs – influenced by energetic particles coming from either violent behaviors of the sun or cosmic rays, according to Yair.
Input from such electrical particles can amplify the current and impact other processes, such as climate systems, he explained.
For example, the ions that flow may act as condensation nuclei to form clouds, or affect properties of other clouds, he added.
“These currents may couple into cloud forming processes which have a climatic significance,” Yair said. “It’s not detached from the climatic system.
It’s something that occurs in the atmosphere.”