You don't have to be a rocket scientist to learn about the upper atmosphere. Just ask someone who is.
A Cornell University rocket scientist, in cooperation with NASA and a local science museum, will be available online via the Internet to "chat" live with anyone who wants to learn about what they are up to in a remote part of Alaska blasting rockets into the upper atmosphere.
"We're trying to reach any person who might be interested in what scientists are doing in the field. Come in and chat, or just view what we're chatting about," said Paul Kintner, Cornell professor of electrical engineering who is leading the event.
In cooperation with the Sciencenter, a hands-on community science museum in Ithaca, N.Y., Kintner and his colleagues will blast a Black Brandt rocket about 620 miles into the upper atmosphere to learn about the origin of the Aurora Borealis -- the Northern Lights -- and the origin of Earth's radiation belt.
Kintner, along with John Bonnell of Cornell, Roger Arnoldy of the University of New Hampshire and Jim LaBelle of Dartmouth College, will chat live from the launch pad as they prepare to fire an instrument-laden, 100-foot sounding rocket from Poker Flat, Alaska, about 30 miles north of Fairbanks in the NASA-funded experiment. Here are the chat times, all dependent on conditions:
- Saturday, Feb. 1, 6-7 p.m. EST
- Friday, Feb. 7, 6-7 p.m. EST
- Saturday, Feb. 8, 6-7 p.m. EST
You will need a Java-enabled Web browser -- generally Netscape 3.0 or higher. To check yours, simply try the chat room beforehand. If you can get in, you're Java-enabled. If you can't, you may want to download a later version of Netscape from the World Wide Web.
Visitors to the Sciencenter in Ithaca, as well as any other science museum that has access to the Web, can participate in the chat room.
Kintner and the research team are interested in the aurora not just for the brilliant and beautiful lights they create in the Northern Hemisphere, but also for the origin of the radiation belts that encircle the Earth. The source of these belts, in which electrically charged particles are trapped, is coming from Earth, but little is known about how particles behave inside them.
"There literally are electromagnetic tornadoes up there," Kintner said. "We want to know how these tornadoes of particles get formed." Typical temperature of these particles is about 3,000 degrees Kelvin. But they get heated up to about 2 million degrees and get thrown into space.
Another part of the experiment, funded in part by the Office of Naval Research, is to test a Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) receiver.