Understanding our space plasma

Three projects offer a deeper understanding of the world of space plasma.

A digital upgrade to the South African SuperDARN radar in Antarctica, the construction of a High Frequency Direction Finding (HF/DF) interferometer array, and the tricky business of uncoiling a wire in space will all come together to give SANSA extended capabilities in space weather monitoring and space plasma studies.

Space is not as empty as you think

While the name suggests that space is empty, that is far from true. Matter released by our sun and space weather events fills the area between our planet and surrounding bodies, and is known as space plasma. Plasma particles are the fourth state of matter (solids, liquids, gasses) and have an effect on how radio transmissions travel through space. It is important for scientists to understand what those effects are. Plasma is always confined by a magnetic field such as the sun’s magnetic field, the interplanetary magnetic field or the Earth’s magnetic field

Part 1: Icy challenges for SuperDARN project

The SA Agulhas II’s December voyage to Antarctica saw the polar research and logistics vessel encounter tough conditions just before Christmas. Strong currents and thick sea ice prevented the ship from reaching the ice-shelf, which caused a two week delay.

When Gert Lamprecht, SANSA’s Research Support Unit Manager, and his team arrived at the South African Antarctic base, SANAE IV, they were told they would have three weeks less than planned to install SANSA’s new high frequency digital radar system.

The radar is part of an international network of 33 radars distributed over the northern and southern polar regions, called the Super Dual Auroral Radar Network (SuperDARN). The new digital radar has replaced the existing 17 year old analogue radar, which was due to be decommissioned in 2012, and will provide a more versatile, reliable and state-of-the-art research platform for scientists to study the ionosphere and other space weather related phenomena.

Antarctica is the optimal place for space weather research instrumentation because the Earth’s magnetic field lines converge at the poles and act as a funnel for space plasma to travel into the Earth’s atmosphere. A single pair of radars in the network can measure the position and movement of ionospheric plasma in an area of approximately 4 million square kilometres.

Two engineers from Lamprecht’s team will stay behind on the ice for 14 months to monitor and maintain the suite of space monitoring instruments that SANSA operates from the base. Despite a few challenges and the hostile Antarctic environment, the team’s enthusiasm has not dampened. The radar has been installed successfully and is receiving data.

Part 1: Icy challenges for SuperDARN project

The SA Agulhas II’s December voyage to Antarctica saw the polar research and logistics vessel encounter tough conditions just before Christmas. Strong currents and thick sea ice prevented the ship from reaching the ice-shelf, which caused a two week delay.

When Gert Lamprecht, SANSA’s Research Support Unit Manager, and his team arrived at the South African Antarctic base, SANAE IV, they were told they would have three weeks less than planned to install SANSA’s new high frequency digital radar system.

The radar is part of an international network of 33 radars distributed over the northern and southern polar regions, called the Super Dual Auroral Radar Network (SuperDARN). The new digital radar has replaced the existing 17 year old analogue radar, which was due to be decommissioned in 2012, and will provide a more versatile, reliable and state-of-the-art research platform for scientists to study the ionosphere and other space weather related phenomena.

Antarctica is the optimal place for space weather research instrumentation because the Earth’s magnetic field lines converge at the poles and act as a funnel for space plasma to travel into the Earth’s atmosphere. A single pair of radars in the network can measure the position and movement of ionospheric plasma in an area of approximately 4 million square kilometres.

Two engineers from Lamprecht’s team will stay behind on the ice for 14 months to monitor and maintain the suite of space monitoring instruments that SANSA operates from the base. Despite a few challenges and the hostile Antarctic environment, the team’s enthusiasm has not dampened. The radar has been installed successfully and is receiving data.

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