NASA’s mission to explore the connection between Earth’s weather and space

Tonight, weather permitting, NASA will launch the Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) to study Earth’s upper atmosphere, which is home to communication satellites, and humans living aboard the International Space Station.

NASA Scientist Sarah Jones said we think of weather as snow or rain. Space weather includes temperature, wind, pressure front, along with magnetic fields, electric fields and invisible particles that make it more complex.

"It can effect, say, the accuracy of GPS measurements by small amounts like centimeters or smaller. But, this can effect our ability to use it for things like landing planes or developing things like self-driving cars," said Jones.

She said for example, the Earth's magnetic field somewhat shields the astronauts on the International Space Station from space weather.

The further out astronauts go, their chances of being exposed to radiation increases.

"In order to prepare for that sort of trip, it's important to understand space weather, so that we can, for example properly shield the spacecraft and protect the astronauts inside," said Jones.

She says while the ionosphere is about 50-60 miles above Earth, ICON will be at 360 miles altitude to look both above and below to measure both atmosphere's effects.

She said space weather is not necessarily caused only by the sun, but possibly big weather events on Earth like large hurricanes, tsunamis or El Nino.

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