Okay so it wasn't quiet that simple. I mentioned to a Canadian colleague over diner at a meeting this last March that it would be cool of we could make sure EISCAT, which I learned about during that conference, was running while BARREL is up this summer since we'll be flying right over it. He mentioned that I probably could apply for radar time (which I knew nothing about) and he gave me the contacts of people who could help. This last suggestion was a very important step as the only real stuff I knew about the radar came from that field trip.
About three weeks later I knew more about radars than I ever imagined I would and we had a mission title/acronym, a pretty impressive science question (if I do say so myself), and a new collaboration. Then the waiting game...
About a month later, so actually pretty quick in terms of a peer review process, we have been awarded time on the EISCAT radar! And to think, if I hadn't been on that field trip, I wouldn't have been aware that this type of data was available or that we would be flying anywhere close to where they take observations. This is one great example of why in person meetings are so very important! The sad thing is that I was one of only a handful of American scientist at this meeting due to travel restrictions from the US government.
So why is this such an amazing proposal you ask? Why does it matter that we got this radar time? What does this huge piece of equipment even study?
I've mentioned before why it's important that we understand the Van Allen Radiation Belts and their variability, you can check out my google hangout, or if you're tiered of listening to me, see my friend Brett's which is perhaps tied a bit more to space weather than mine. ... so I won't talk too much on that.
This proposal starts getting into chemistry (which I hated in school, well not so much hated, but my lab partner's notebook started disintegrating due to all the chemicals we spilled. Lets just say that it was pretty clear I shouldn't be a chemist). Specifically, we're starting to get into atmospheric chemistry and the depletion of ozone.
So let's step back a bit. Well let's step back about 12 Earth Radii, to the general location where particles traveling from the Sun (the solar wind) can start to enter the Earth's magnetosphere... Then they do the Dungy Dance, but there are no you tube videos of that (thank goodness). These particles now get swept back into the Earth's magnetotail where they can be accelerated Earthward ultimately down field lines to the atmosphere as seen in the movie below.
However, at times when there is a large amount of loss from the radiation belts, we're putting a ton of energy into the upper atmosphere. What happens to it? What happens to all those X-rays? We know that they get re-absorbed which is why we see so few and why we have to fly above about 30 km.
Turns out that this process can affect the chemistry and the different types of interactions found in the mesosphere. Not sure where the mesosphere is? Neither was I. Turns out I should have known. NASA has made a graphic with BARREL included, in the different layers of the atmosphere.