New Evidence Suggests Space Force Rocket Launch May Have Created Hole in Earth’s Atmosphere
The launch of a rocket could have damaged Earth’s upper atmosphere, puncturing the ionosphere and generating a faint red glow.
According to analysts, a rocket carrying a US Space Force satellite launched on Thursday night (Friday am in India) and may have produced a disruption in Earth’s upper atmosphere.
This surprise rocket launch gained interest because it was neither publicly disclosed or live-streamed, and it produced a large exhaust plume visible from nearly 1,500 kilometers away. However, once the plume dissipated, a small red glow remained in the sky, indicating that the rocket may have breached the ionosphere, according to Spaceweather.com.
According to Stephen Hummel, who witnessed the launch from the McDonald Observatory in Texas, “a bright exhaust cone expanded to cover a large area of the sky during astronomical darkness.” The publication added that “after the cone faded, there was a slight red afterglow,” which could have been created by the rocket striking a hole in the ionosphere.
The satellite, dubbed “Victus Nox,” is part of a US Space Force project called “Victus Nox,” which is testing the Firefly Alpha rocket’s ability to launch a military satellite with only 24 hours’ notice. Within 27 hours of permission, the launch took place from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.
Another low-Earth orbit launch, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, generated another exhaust plume earlier in July. Because of the increased number of low-Earth orbit launches, these mishaps are becoming more common.
What is the ionosphere?
The ionosphere is a layer of charged particles that exists between 80 and 650 kilometers above the Earth’s surface. The ionosphere, along with the neutral upper atmosphere, marks the border between Earth’s lower atmosphere — where we live — and the vacuum of space, as defined by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
How Do Rockets Cause Ionosphere Holes?
According to Spaceweather.com, when rocket engines ignite 200 to 300 kilometers above the Earth’s surface, they emit water (H2O) and carbon dioxide (CO2) into the ionosphere. Local ionization is reduced by up to 70% with this method. A complex series of charge exchange processes between oxygen ions (O+) and molecules in rocket exhaust produces photons with a wavelength of 6300 ngströms, the same wavelength as red auroras.
What Are the Dangers of Ionosphere Disruptions?
According to the US space agency, this space boundary overlaps with the orbits of numerous Earth-orbiting satellites, including the International Space Station. As a result, these satellites can be influenced by the ionosphere’s ever-changing circumstances, such as unexpected spikes in charged particles, which intensify drag on satellites and decrease their orbital lifespans.
Both radio and GPS transmissions pass through or rely on this air layer for signal reflection to reach their destinations. Fluctuations in the density and composition of the ionosphere can impair these signals in both cases.
Although rocket launches cause disruptions, they are only transient; re-ionization occurs as soon as the sun rises.