Physics and Astronomy

Physics & Astronomy Graduate Student Leads Paper Featured on the NASA Heliophysics Webpage

Graduate Student, Rafael Mesquita, led a team that measured the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability (KHI) as a part of a rocket launch campaign in 2018, out of the Poker Flat Research Range in Alaska. Over the years, folks have observed an increased concentration of nitrogen in the thermosphere (above 100 km and usually oxygen heavy) and atomic oxygen in the mesosphere (below 100 km and usually nitrogen heavy), but there’s never been a detailed explanation of why that happened. One of the standing theories is that dynamical instabilities are the cause for the vertical transport of those molecules. Observations of dynamical instabilities above the turbopause (region where turbulence stops being the dominant form of mixing) are not necessarily uncommon. However, this is the first time someone has ever observed and characterized the KHI in this much detail, and observed the subsequent turbulence caused by it. That’s an indication of vertical transport of mass and energy in a region that in theory shouldn’t be there.
The paper was published in JGR: Space Physics and featured by NASA on their homepage. Please join me in congratulating Rafael on his exciting work.

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