Brian Dunbar Headquarters, Washington, D.C.

(Phone: 202/453-1547)

August 31, 1990

Jim Sahli Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala. (Phone: 205/544-6528) RELEASE: 90-120 NASA TO TEST GAS IONIZATION THEORY OVER SOUTH PACIFIC

A NASA/U.S. Air Force satellite will initiate two chemical release experiments Sept. 10 and 12 to aid scientists studying the processes by which fast-moving neutral gases become ionized. The two chemical releases, part of the Combined Release and Radiation Effects Satellite (CRRES) program, will occur at dusk local time over the South Pacific and above the atmosphere at altitudes between 300 and 360 miles. CRRES is a joint NASA/U.S. Air Force mission to study the Earth's ionosphere and magnetosphere and to monitor the effects of the space radiation environment on sophisticated electronics. On each day, two canisters will be ejected from opposite sides of the CRRES spacecraft. After 25 minutes, when the canisters are about 2 miles from the satellite, vaporized chemicals will be released from each canister and expand, initially at a rate of approximately 0.6 miles per second. One pair of canisters will release approximately 12 pounds of barium from one canister and 12 pounds of strontium from the other. The second pair will release 12 pounds of barium and 4 pounds of calcium.

Since the releases will be made below the Sun-Earth terminator (the line that divides the Earth between day and night), the released chemical cloud will not be visible initially. If the vapor cloud becomes ionized by interaction with the background plasma, the newly formed ions will expand upward along lines of the Earth's magnetic field. - more -2-

Approximately 42 miles above the release point, the ions will emerge into sunlight, where they will become visible as they scatter sunlight. This ion cloud will appear as a faint purplish streak, elongated along the geomagnetic field, with a brightness similar to a weak aurora's. However, since the releases will be made at dusk, it will be difficult for an observer to see the releases with the naked eye. The observation of such an ion cloud will confirm the critical velocity ionization hypothesis, which states that if the relative velocity of an electrically neutral gas and a magnetized plasma (ionized, or electrically charged, gas) is large enough, the neutral gas will ionize even though less energy is available than is normally required for ionization. The Sept. 10 releases will occur at 2:11 a.m. EDT (7:11 p.m. on Sept. 9 local time) approximately halfway between American Samoa and Tahiti, at latitude 17.5 degrees south and longitude 161 degrees west. The Sept. 12 releases will occur at 3:29 a.m. (8:29 p.m. Sept. 11 local time) just east of Fiji, at latitude 18 degrees south and 180 degrees west. The chemical releases will be observed by scientists aboard two aircraft, a U.S. Air Force KC-135 and a leased Lear-35. Also, scientists on American Samoa will observe the releases with low-light video cameras and telescopes. Instruments aboard the satellite itself also will observe the releases.

CRRES was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., on July 25 aboard an Atlas-Centaur vehicle. NASA's portion of the mission is managed by the Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., for the agency's Office of Space Science and Applications. - end NOTE TO EDITORS: Charts showing the CRRES spacecraft's ground track and the location and approximate time of each release are available from NASA Headquarters Newsroom by calling (202) 453-8400.

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