Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Study Finds Space Shuttle Exhaust Creates Night-shining Clouds

Date:
June 4, 2003
Source:
Naval Research Laboratory
Summary:
Exhaust from NASA's space shuttle, which is almost 97 percent water vapor, can travel to the Arctic in the Earth's thermosphere where it forms ice to create some of the Earth's highest clouds that literally shine at night, according to a new study led by the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) and jointly funded by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and NASA.

Washington, DC (June 3, 2003) -- Exhaust from NASA's space shuttle, which is almost 97 percent water vapor, can travel to the Arctic in the Earth's thermosphere where it forms ice to create some of the Earth's highest clouds that literally shine at night, according to a new study led by the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) and jointly funded by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and NASA. The thermosphere is the highest layer in our atmosphere, occupying the region above about 55 miles (88 kilometers) altitude. The clouds settle to 51 miles (82 km) altitude in the layer directly below called the mesosphere. The stratosphere and the troposphere lie in that order below the mesosphere.

Dr. Michael H. Stevens, the paper's lead author and a research physicist at NRL in Washington, reports that exhaust from the shuttle and other launch vehicles may help explain how some of these mysterious clouds are formed. The paper appears in the May 31 issue of the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Noctilucent clouds, sometimes called polar mesospheric clouds when observed from space, are too thin to be seen by the naked eye in broad daylight. However, they shine at night when the Sun's rays hit them from below the horizon while the lower atmosphere is bathed in darkness. They typically form in the cold, summer polar mesosphere and are made of water ice particles.

The study uses data from the NRL's Middle Atmosphere High Resolution Spectrograph Investigation (MAHRSI) instrument, launched on the shuttle for eight days of observation in August, 1997. MAHRSI allowed scientists to follow the plume's rapid pole-ward transport and then to observe a discrete region of ice clouds as it appeared in the Arctic near the end of the mission. Stevens and colleagues find that the water contained in these clouds is consistent with the amount injected into the thermosphere by the shuttle on its ascent off the east coast of the United States.

"This study is important because it shows that there is a new source of water ice for the polar upper atmosphere," said Stevens, lead scientist for MAHRSI. "Our results indicate that the water vapor released by launch vehicles can end up in the Arctic mesosphere."

About half of the water vapor exhaust from the shuttle's main fuel tank is injected into the thermosphere, typically at altitudes of 64 to 71 miles (103 to 114 km). Stevens and colleagues found that this water vapor can then be transported all the way to the Arctic in a little over a day, much faster than predicted by models of atmospheric winds. There is currently no explanation for why the water moves so quickly.

Stevens and colleagues also include observations from a ground-based experiment in Norway measuring water vapor moving toward the Arctic Circle. These observations reveal the passage of a large plume of water vapor overhead a little over a day after the same (STS-85) shuttle launch, confirming the plume trajectory inferred from the MAHRSI measurements.

As the water vapor moves to the Arctic it falls from the warmer thermosphere down to colder areas in the mesosphere. Over the North Pole in the summer mesospheric temperatures can plummet below minus 220 Fahrenheit (minus 140 Celsius), the lowest found in the Earth's atmosphere. At these temperatures, water vapor condenses into ice particles and clouds form.

"The amount of water found here is tiny compared to the amount in the lower atmosphere," Stevens said. "But the long term effects in the upper atmosphere have yet to be studied."

The Office of Naval Research and NASA's Office of Space Science funded the study.

For more information and images on the Internet, visit: http://www.gsfc.nasa.gov/topstory/2003/0522shuttleshine.html and http://uap-www.nrl.navy.mil/mahrsi/mahrsi.html and http://www.nrl.navy.mil

NRL is the Department of the Navy's corporate laboratory. NRL conducts a broad program of scientific research, technology and advanced development. The Laboratory, with a total complement of nearly 2,500 personnel, is located in southwest Washington, DC, with other major sites at the Stennis Space Center, MS; and Monterey, CA.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Naval Research Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Naval Research Laboratory. "Study Finds Space Shuttle Exhaust Creates Night-shining Clouds." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 June 2003. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/06/030604084634.htm>.
Naval Research Laboratory. (2003, June 4). Study Finds Space Shuttle Exhaust Creates Night-shining Clouds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 17, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/06/030604084634.htm
Naval Research Laboratory. "Study Finds Space Shuttle Exhaust Creates Night-shining Clouds." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/06/030604084634.htm (accessed April 17, 2014).

Share This



More Matter & Energy News

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Small Reactors Could Be Future of Nuclear Energy

Small Reactors Could Be Future of Nuclear Energy

AP (Apr. 17, 2014) After the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the industry fell under intense scrutiny. Now, small underground nuclear power plants are being considered as the possible future of the nuclear energy. (April 17) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
German Researchers Crack Samsung's Fingerprint Scanner

German Researchers Crack Samsung's Fingerprint Scanner

Newsy (Apr. 16, 2014) German researchers have used a fake fingerprint made from glue to bypass the fingerprint security system on Samsung's new Galaxy S5 smartphone. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Porsche CEO Says Supercar Is Not Dead: Cue the Spyder 918

Porsche CEO Says Supercar Is Not Dead: Cue the Spyder 918

TheStreet (Apr. 16, 2014) The Porsche Spyder 918 proves that, in an automotive world obsessed with fuel efficiency, the supercar is not dead. Porsche North America CEO Detlev von Platen attributes the brand's consistent sales growth -- 21% in 2013 -- with an investment in new technology and expanded performance dynamics. The hybrid Spyder 918 has 887 horsepower and 944 lb-ft of torque, but it can run 18 miles on just an electric charge. The $845,000 vehicle is not a consumer-targeted vehicle but a brand statement. Video provided by TheStreet
Powered by NewsLook.com
Industry's Optimism Shines At New York Auto Show

Industry's Optimism Shines At New York Auto Show

Newsy (Apr. 16, 2014) After seeing auto sales grow last month, there's plenty for the industry to celebrate as it rolls out its newest designs. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins