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Topics Covered:

Awareness in space.



What to study?

For Prelims and mains: Key features and significance of the mission, why study ionosphere?


Context: National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has launched a satellite ICON to detect dynamic zones of Earth’s Ionosphere. The satellite Ionosphere Connection Explorer (ICON) was launched from an aircraft over the Atlantic Ocean near the Florida coast.


About ICON Mission:

  1. The ICON satellite will study the Earth’s Ionosphere. It includes various layers of the uppermost atmosphere where free electrons flow freely.
  2. The ICON mission is the 39th successful launch and satellite deployment by Pegasus rocket.
    This mission is operated by the University of California.
  3. It was originally planned to launch in late 2017 but delayed due to the problems with the Pegasus XL rocket.
    It is equipped with 780-watt solar arrays to power the instruments.

Earth’s Atmospheric Layers:

Troposphere: It starts at the Earth’s surface and extends 8 to 14.5 kilometers high (5 to 9 miles). This part of the atmosphere is the most dense. Almost all weather is in this region.

Stratosphere: It starts just above the troposphere and extends to 50 kilometers (31 miles) high. The ozone layer, which absorbs and scatters the solar ultraviolet radiation, is in this layer.

Mesosphere: The mesosphere starts just above the stratosphere and extends to 85 kilometers (53 miles) high. Meteors burn up in this layer.

Thermosphere: It starts just above the mesosphere and extends to 600 kilometers (372 miles) high. Aurora and satellites occur in this layer.

Ionosphere: It is an abundant layer of electrons and ionized atoms and molecules that stretches from about 48 kilometers (30 miles) above the surface to the edge of space at about 965 km (600 mi), overlapping into the mesosphere and thermosphere. This dynamic region grows and shrinks based on solar conditions and divides further into the sub-regions: D, E and F; based on what wavelength of solar radiation is absorbed. The ionosphere is a critical link in the chain of Sun-Earth interactions. This region is what makes radio communications possible.

Exosphere: This is the upper limit of our atmosphere. It extends from the top of the thermosphere up to 10,000 km (6,200 mi).


Sources: the Hindu.