SpaceX's Falcon 9 may have punched a hole in the ionosphere

And it's not the first time, either.
Chris Young
SpaceX's Falcon 9 launching on July 19.
SpaceX's Falcon 9 launching on July 19.

SpaceX / Twitter 

A Falcon 9 rocket launched from California by Elon Musk's SpaceX last week, July 19, may have punched a hole in the Earth's ionosphere, a report from reveals.

A new analysis by Boston University space physicist Jeff Baumgardner explained that it was "quite possible" the launch punched an ionospheric "hole" into the sky.

SpaceX rocket may have punched a hole in ionosphere

The ionosphere is a layer of electrically-charged plasma particles surrounding Earth at an altitude between 50-400 miles (80-650 km), right on the boundary between the upper atmosphere and space.

Many satellites orbit within or above the ionosphere, and signals beam through the layer, meaning it plays an important part in the world's communications infrastructure — GPS satellites, for example, beam their data through the ionosphere.

The Falcon 9 that may have punched a hole through this layer lifted off from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on July 19, taking with it yet another batch of SpaceX's broadband internet Starlink satellites.

"This is a well-studied phenomenon when rockets are burning their engines 200 to 300km (around 120 to 190 miles) above Earth's surface," Baumgardner told Spaceweatherarchive.

According to Baumgardner, research shows that the increasing number of rocket launches worldwide is increasing the occurrence of ionosphere holes. Rocket exhaust flames are known to alter the process by which charged particles form in the ionosphere.

Rocket's traveling through the ionosphere have also been shown to generate disturbances that generate shockwaves in the layer.

Baumgardner explained that holes in the ionosphere are identified via their signature red color. This is caused by oxygen ions in the layer of the atmosphere reacting with electrons from the rocket exhaust, releasing light in the same wavelength as red auroras.

Shortly after the July 19 Falcon 9 launch, observers reported seeing this characteristic red glow.

Shockwaves traveling through the ionosphere

It's not the first time Falcon 9 has been suspected of tearing a hole in the ionosphere. In 2017, a Falcon 9 rocket carrying Taiwan's Formosat 5 satellite caused "gigantic circular shock acoustic waves" in the ionosphere roughly five minutes after liftoff, a report from The Independent reveals.

That rocket launch was later found to have created a circular shockwave that reverberated through the ionosphere. In a study published in the journal Space Weather, scientists reported that "the rocket-exhaust plume subsequently created a large-scale ionospheric plasma hole (~900km in diameter) with 10-70 percent TEC depletions in comparison with the reference days."

Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron
Job Board