Brian Dunbar Headquarters, Washington, D.C.

(Phone: 202/453-1547)

January 3, 1991 4 p.m. EST

Jerry Berg Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala. (Phone: 205/544-0034) RELEASE: 91-2 SATELLITE RELEASES PLANNED IN STUDY OF AURORAL DISPLAYS In January 1991, NASA will conduct experiments from an orbiting satellite to test the possibility of creating an artificial aurora. The Combined Release and Radiation Effects Satellite (CRRES) will release clouds of barium and lithium vapor in the Earth's magnetosphere, the region above the atmosphere. The CRRES program is a joint NASA-U.S. Air Force effort to study the Earth's ionosphere and magnetosphere and to monitor the effects of the space radiation environment on sophisticated electronics. Through the CRRES program's artificial cloudrelease experiments, scientists seek to understand the processes which cause auroras by using artificial charged-particle clouds to induce them. The releases, which have no adverse environmental effects, will result in clouds of artificially injected charged particles, temporarily and locally changing the structure of the charged particles and the magnetic fields where they occur. Illuminated by the sun, these clouds will show up as bright patches in the night sky. Project officials estimate the patches will be about the size of a full moon and nearly as bright. The releases should be visible from the entire continental United States, most of Canada, Central America, the Caribbean,

and much of South America. During some of the release opportunities, the clouds may be visible low in the western skies from western Africa and Europe, several hours before dawn. Two previous releases from the CRRES satellite have been made. They occurred in September over the South Pacific Ocean. - more -2The magnetosphere is the region where the Earth's magnetic field forms a "bubble" in the solar wind, trapping energetic electrons and ions. These charged particles are locked into spiral orbits around the lines of magnetic force, spinning like a rock whirled around on a string. These particles also bounce back and forth along the field lines from one end to the other, coming close to the Earth at each end but turning around or "reflecting" just above the atmosphere. "Sometimes, though, these charged particles act like they're jumping the tracks," said Dr. David L. Reasoner, CRRES Project Scientist at the Marshall center. "They leave their stable paths and go racing up into the high, thin atmosphere. There they smash into the atoms and molecules of air, causing them to glow, almost like a big TV screen. "We call this glow the aurora," Reasoner continued. "At times the particles leak out of the magnetic field trap in a slow drizzle and make only weak, barely visible auroras. At other times they pour out like a heavy downpour, making very bright auroras or an auroral storm." Scientists are not sure why these particles behave in strange, unpredictable ways. "The ever-changing nature of the aurora stands as brilliant evidence of these uncontrolled processes," said Reasoner. "They're not only responsible for visible effects -- that is, the aurora. They also cause disruptions in high-frequency communications, occasionally produce damaging currents in terrestrial power systems and create magnetic storms which affect sensitive instruments on Earth and in space," he added. A total of seven releases are planned, three in which lithium will produce a red glow and four of barium, which will

glow green and purple. The opportunities for the releases occur on the nights of Jan. 10, 12, 14, 15, 17, 19, 21, 23, 24 and 25. Exact times for the releases will be announced - after being determined by scientists monitoring the state of the magnetosphere by means of instruments on the CRRES satellite. "In essence, we are attempting to duplicate nature on a small scale by artificially triggering a natural process in a controlled experiment," said Reasoner. The effects will be studied with an extensive network of cameras and other instruments both on the ground and in specially instrumented aircraft scattered throughout the United States, the Caribbean and South America and staffed by scientists from universities, both U.S. and foreign, government laboratories and industry. The actual releases will be over South America at altitudes between 3,000 and 21,000 miles. - more -

-3For viewers in the United States and Canada, the releases will be in the southern sky at elevations between 10 and 50 degrees above the horizon. Since the moon will be down or near new phase for the releases (a requirement for the highly sensitive scientific cameras), observers in locations with clear skies and away from city lights should have excellent viewing conditions. The lithium releases are expected to be visible for about 5 minutes, and the barium releases for about 15 minutes. The satellite originally was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., last July 25 aboard an Atlas-Centaur rocket. CRRES is a joint program of NASA, through its Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., and the Department of Defense's Space Test Program. CRRES is operated and controlled from the Consolidated Space Test Center located in Sunnyvale, Calif. - end -