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Charged Aerosol Release Experiment (CARE)

NASA's Charged Aerosol Release Experiment (CARE), Plans To 'Make Clouds' Tonight . . .

A rocket experiment set to launch Tuesday aims to create artificial clouds at the outermost layers of Earth's atmosphere.

The project, called the Charged Aerosol Release Experiment (CARE), plans to trigger cloud formation around the rocket's exhaust particles. The clouds are intended to simulate naturally-occurring phenomena called noctilucent clouds, which are the highest clouds in the atmosphere.

"This is really essentially at the boundary of space," said Wayne Scales, a scientist at Virginia Tech who will use computer models to study the physics of the artificial dust cloud as it's released. "Nothing like this has been done before and that's why everybody's really excited about it."

The experiment is the first attempt to create artificial noctilucent clouds. A previous spacecraft, called Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM), launched in 2007 to observe the natural clouds from space.

CARE is slated to launch Tuesday between 7:30 and 7:57 p.m. EDT (2330 and 2357 GMT) from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Noctilucent means "night shining" in Latin. Although difficult to spot with the naked eye, the clouds are best visible when Earth's surface is in darkness and sunlight from below the horizon illuminates the high-altitude clouds.

These clouds, also known as polar mesospheric clouds, are made of ice crystals. The natural ones tend to hover around 50 to 55 miles (80 to 90 km) above the Earth. CARE will release its dust particles a bit higher than that, then let them settle back down to a lower altitude.

"What the CARE experiment hopes to do is to create an artificial dust layer," Scales told "Hopefully it's a creation in a controlled sense, which will allow scientists to study different aspects of it, the turbulence generated on the inside, the distribution of dust particles and such." [1]

The physics of radar scatter from charged particulates in the upper atmosphere will be studied with the Charged Aerosol Release Experiment (CARE). In 2008, two rocket payloads are being designed for launch North America. The purpose of the CARE program is to identify the mechanisms for radar scatter from polar mesospheric clouds. Polar mesospheric summer echoes (PMSE) are observed at high latitudes when small concentrations of electrons (one-thousand per cubic cm) become attached to sub-micron dust particles. Radar in the VHF (30-300 MHz) frequency range have seen 30 dB enhancements in radar echoes coincident with formation of ice near 85 km altitude. Radar echoes from electrons in the vicinity of charged dust have been observed for frequencies exceeding 1 GHz. Some fundamental questions that remain about the scatting process are: (1) What is the relative importance of turbulent scatter versus incoherent (i.e., Thompson) scatter from individual electrons? (2) What produces the inhomogeneous electron/dust plasma? (3) How is the radar scatter influenced by the density of background electrons, plasma instabilities and turbulence, and photo detachment of electrons from the particulates? These questions will be addressed when the CARE program releases 50 kg of dust particles in an expanding shell at about 300 km altitude. The dust will be manufactured by the chemical release payload to provide particulate sizes in the 10 to 1000 nm range. The expanding dust shell will collect electrons making dense, heavy particles the move the negative charges across magnetic field lines. Plasma turbulence and electron acceleration will be formed from the charge separation between the magnetized oxygen ions in the background ionosphere and the streaming negatively charged dust. Simulations of this process provide estimates of plasma structure which can scatter radar. As the particulates settle through the lower thermosphere into the mesosphere, artificial mesospheric clouds will be formed. Radar scatter form this artificial layer will be compared with natural PMSE observations. Along with the chemical release rocket, in situ probes with a separate instrumented payload will be used to measure dust density, electric fields, plasma density and velocity, and radio wave scattering. [2]

The radar scatter from dusty plasmas will be studied with the Charged Aerosol Release Experiment (CARE) launched from Wallops Island, Virginia in Spring of 2009. A dusty plasma will be produced in the ionosphere by releasing an expanding shell with 66kg of Aluminum Oxide particulates. The expansion velocity of the shell will be 2.5 km/s. Ground radars and optical systems as will as in situ dust detectors, electric field booms, and a Langmuir probe will diagnose the experiment. Numerical simulations have shown that several types of fluid and kinetic instabilities will be excited the high speed dust release. [3]

Media Gallery



"NASA’s Charged Aerosol Release Experiment (CARE), Plans To “Make Clouds” Tonight." Weasel Zippers (2009).
Bernhardt, P. A., et al. "The Charged Aerosol Release Experiment (CARE)." AGU Fall Meeting Abstracts. Vol. 2005. (2005).
Bernhardt, P. A. "The Charged Aerosol Release Experiment." Plasma Physics Division, Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, DC, United States (2008).
Bernhardt, Paul A. "An update on the charged aerosol release experiment CARE." Proc. Abstr. 12th Workshop on the Physics of Dusty Plasma. Boulder, CO, (2009).
Moskowitz, Clara. "NASA rocket aims to create artificial clouds." NBC News (2009).
"Night Time Artificial Cloud Study Using NASA Sounding Rocket." NASA (2009).

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