On June 22, NASA’s ICON team released scientific data collected during the spacecraft’s first eight months in orbit to the public.
The data release features observations from ICON’s four instruments — MIGHTI, FUV, EUV, and IVM — which have been observing the ins and outs of the ionosphere, the sea of charged particles high in the upper atmosphere. Scientists have been busy parsing the wealth of observations collected by ICON in preparation for the mission’s first science results, which will be released later this year.
“ICON was designed, built, and launched to provide data we had never seen before, and it has not disappointed us in any regard,” said Thomas Immel, ICON principal investigator at University of California, Berkeley. Immel said he was pleased to share ICON’s first data with the world. “The sensitivity and precision of our observations, and the unique orbit and mission design, give us a new and advanced tool for unlocking all the puzzling questions we have had about the connection between Earth’s atmosphere and our space environment.”
The release coincides with the virtual summer meeting of CEDAR, the Coupling, Energetics, and Dynamics of Atmospheric Regions program. The newly released data spans measurements made since the mission’s launch on Oct. 10, 2019. Data can be accessed through University of California Berkeley’s Space Sciences Lab.
ICON observes what’s happening at the lowest boundary of space, from about 55 miles up to 360 miles above the surface. ICON explores the connections between the neutral atmosphere and the electrically charged ionosphere. In addition to interfering with communications signals, space weather in this important slice of the atmosphere can also prematurely decay spacecraft orbits and expose astronauts to radiation-borne health risks.
“We’re really excited to see the first data appearing from the ICON mission,” said Scott England, the ICON project scientist at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. “For me, the real power of these data isn’t just seeing transformative things like the wind patterns throughout the whole upper atmosphere, but having all these observations available to us at once, so we can see the connections between the neutral and charged environment around Earth.”
By Lina Tran
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.