NASA launches new ICON satellite

SAN ANTONIO – As satellite communications become vital for tasks on Earth, like landing planes and controlling self-driving cars, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has launched a new satellite with the hope of better understanding space weather.  

NASA's Ionospheric Connection Explorer launched Oct. 10.

"It will go up into the Earth's very uppermost atmosphere to measure a type of weather called space weather," said NASA scientist Sarah Jones.

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The upper atmosphere is a battleground of sorts, where Earth's weather interacts with outer space's solar radiation.  

While the current forecast calls for the sun to remain relatively calm, that is not always the case. 

"Sometimes the sun is more active and will spew out big globs of its own material, which can then cause particle storms," Jones said.

In turn, those storms react with the Earth's outer atmosphere to create phenomena like the Northern Lights, which create bright displays of vibrant colors in the night sky. 

ICON is expected to fly through a similar phenomenon called air glow, which give us amazing images and never-before-seen data. What NASA learns from the data could be vital.  

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"It affects our technology. So, for example, it's causing weather in the upper-most atmosphere where GPS signals need to pass through to get to the ground. And that affects the accuracy of those measurements and therefore our ability to use those measurements," Jones said.

Interruptions in GPS signals can impact things like the landing of planes or the safety of self-driving cars.  

NASA hopes the result is an ability to better forecast space weather. 

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