The ionosphere (/aɪˈɒnəˌsfɪər/[1][2]) is the ionized part of Earth's upper atmosphere, from about 60 km (37 mi) to 1,000 km (620 mi) altitude, a region that includes the thermosphere and parts of the mesosphere and exosphere. The ionosphere is ionized by solar radiation. It plays an important role in atmospheric electricity and forms the inner edge of the magnetosphere. It has practical importance because, among other functions, it influences radio propagation to distant places on the Earth.[3]

Atmosphere with Ionosphere
Relationship of the atmosphere and ionosphere


As early as 1839, the German mathematician and physicist Carl Friedrich Gauss postulated that an electrically conducting region of the atmosphere could account for observed variations of Earth's magnetic field. Sixty years later, Guglielmo Marconi received the first trans-Atlantic radio signal on December 12, 1901, in St. John's, Newfoundland (now in Canada) using a 152.4 m (500 ft) kite-supported antenna for reception. The transmitting station in Poldhu, Cornwall, used a spark-gap transmitter to produce a signal with a frequency of approximately 500 kHz and a power of 100 times more than any radio signal previously produced. The message received was three dits, the Morse code for the letter S. To reach Newfoundland the signal would have to bounce off the ionosphere twice. Dr. Jack Belrose has contested this, however, based on theoretical and experimental work.[4] However, Marconi did achieve transatlantic wireless communications in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, one year later.[5]

In 1902, Oliver Heaviside proposed the existence of the Kennelly–Heaviside layer of the ionosphere which bears his name. Heaviside's proposal included means by which radio signals are transmitted around the Earth's curvature. Heaviside's proposal, coupled with Planck's law of black-body radiation, may have hampered the growth of radio astronomy for the detection of electromagnetic waves from celestial bodies until 1932 (and the development of high-frequency radio transceivers). Also in 1902, Arthur Edwin Kennelly discovered some of the ionosphere's radio-electrical properties.

In 1912, the U.S. Congress imposed the Radio Act of 1912 on amateur radio operators, limiting their operations to frequencies above 1.5 MHz (wavelength 200 meters or smaller). The government thought those frequencies were useless. This led to the discovery of HF radio propagation via the ionosphere in 1923.

In 1926, Scottish physicist Robert Watson-Watt introduced the term ionosphere in a letter published only in 1969 in Nature:

We have in quite recent years seen the universal adoption of the term 'stratosphere'..and..the companion term 'troposphere'... The term 'ionosphere', for the region in which the main characteristic is large scale ionisation with considerable mean free paths, appears appropriate as an addition to this series.

In the early 1930s, test transmissions of Radio Luxembourg inadvertently provided evidence of the first radio modification of the ionosphere; HAARP ran a series of experiments in 2017 using the eponymous Luxembourg Effect.[6]

Edward V. Appleton was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1947 for his confirmation in 1927 of the existence of the ionosphere. Lloyd Berkner first measured the height and density of the ionosphere. This permitted the first complete theory of short-wave radio propagation. Maurice V. Wilkes and J. A. Ratcliffe researched the topic of radio propagation of very long radio waves in the ionosphere. Vitaly Ginzburg has developed a theory of electromagnetic wave propagation in plasmas such as the ionosphere.

In 1962, the Canadian satellite Alouette 1 was launched to study the ionosphere. Following its success were Alouette 2 in 1965 and the two ISIS satellites in 1969 and 1971, further AEROS-A and -B in 1972 and 1975, all for measuring the ionosphere.

On July 26, 1963 the first operational geosynchronous satellite Syncom 2 was launched.[7] The board radio beacons on this satellite (and its successors) enabled – for the first time – the measurement of total electron content (TEC) variation along a radio beam from geostationary orbit to an earth receiver. (The rotation of the plane of polarization directly measures TEC along the path.) Australian geophysicist Elizabeth Essex-Cohen from 1969 onwards was using this technique to monitor the atmosphere above Australia and Antarctica.[8]


The ionosphere is a shell of electrons and electrically charged atoms and molecules that surrounds the Earth, stretching from a height of about 50 km (31 mi) to more than 1,000 km (620 mi). It exists primarily due to ultraviolet radiation from the Sun.

The lowest part of the Earth's atmosphere, the troposphere extends from the surface to about 10 km (6.2 mi). Above that is the stratosphere, followed by the mesosphere. In the stratosphere incoming solar radiation creates the ozone layer. At heights of above 80 km (50 mi), in the thermosphere, the atmosphere is so thin that free electrons can exist for short periods of time before they are captured by a nearby positive ion. The number of these free electrons is sufficient to affect radio propagation. This portion of the atmosphere is partially ionized and contains a plasma which is referred to as the ionosphere.

Ultraviolet (UV), X-ray and shorter wavelengths of solar radiation are ionizing, since photons at these frequencies contain sufficient energy to dislodge an electron from a neutral gas atom or molecule upon absorption. In this process the light electron obtains a high velocity so that the temperature of the created electronic gas is much higher (of the order of thousand K) than the one of ions and neutrals. The reverse process to ionization is recombination, in which a free electron is "captured" by a positive ion. Recombination occurs spontaneously, and causes the emission of a photon carrying away the energy produced upon recombination. As gas density increases at lower altitudes, the recombination process prevails, since the gas molecules and ions are closer together. The balance between these two processes determines the quantity of ionization present.

Ionization depends primarily on the Sun and its activity. The amount of ionization in the ionosphere varies greatly with the amount of radiation received from the Sun. Thus there is a diurnal (time of day) effect and a seasonal effect. The local winter hemisphere is tipped away from the Sun, thus there is less received solar radiation. The activity of the Sun is associated with the sunspot cycle, with more radiation occurring with more sunspots. Radiation received also varies with geographical location (polar, auroral zones, mid-latitudes, and equatorial regions). There are also mechanisms that disturb the ionosphere and decrease the ionization. There are disturbances such as solar flares and the associated release of charged particles into the solar wind which reaches the Earth and interacts with its geomagnetic field.

The ionospheric layers

Ionosphere Layers en
Ionospheric layers....

At night the F layer is the only layer of significant ionization present, while the ionization in the E and D layers is extremely low. During the day, the D and E layers become much more heavily ionized, as does the F layer, which develops an additional, weaker region of ionisation known as the F1 layer. The F2 layer persists by day and night and is the main region responsible for the refraction and reflection of radio waves.

D layer

The D layer is the innermost layer, 60 km (37 mi) to 90 km (56 mi) above the surface of the Earth. Ionization here is due to Lyman series-alpha hydrogen radiation at a wavelength of 121.6 nanometre (nm) ionizing nitric oxide (NO). In addition, high solar activity can generate hard X-rays (wavelength < 1 nm) that ionize N2 and O2. Recombination rates are high in the D layer, so there are many more neutral air molecules than ions.

Medium frequency (MF) and lower high frequency (HF) radio waves are significantly attenuated within the D layer, as the passing radio waves cause electrons to move, which then collide with the neutral molecules, giving up their energy. Lower frequencies experience greater absorption because they move the electrons farther, leading to greater chance of collisions. This is the main reason for absorption of HF radio waves, particularly at 10 MHz and below, with progressively less absorption at higher frequencies. This effect peaks around noon and is reduced at night due to a decrease in the D layer's thickness; only a small part remains due to cosmic rays. A common example of the D layer in action is the disappearance of distant AM broadcast band stations in the daytime.

During solar proton events, ionization can reach unusually high levels in the D-region over high and polar latitudes. Such very rare events are known as Polar Cap Absorption (or PCA) events, because the increased ionization significantly enhances the absorption of radio signals passing through the region.[9] In fact, absorption levels can increase by many tens of dB during intense events, which is enough to absorb most (if not all) transpolar HF radio signal transmissions. Such events typically last less than 24 to 48 hours.

E layer

The E layer is the middle layer, 90 km (56 mi) to 150 km (93 mi) above the surface of the Earth. Ionization is due to soft X-ray (1–10 nm) and far ultraviolet (UV) solar radiation ionization of molecular oxygen (O2). Normally, at oblique incidence, this layer can only reflect radio waves having frequencies lower than about 10 MHz and may contribute a bit to absorption on frequencies above. However, during intense sporadic E events, the Es layer can reflect frequencies up to 50 MHz and higher. The vertical structure of the E layer is primarily determined by the competing effects of ionization and recombination. At night the E layer weakens because the primary source of ionization is no longer present. After sunset an increase in the height of the E layer maximum increases the range to which radio waves can travel by reflection from the layer.

This region is also known as the Kennelly–Heaviside layer or simply the Heaviside layer. Its existence was predicted in 1902 independently and almost simultaneously by the American electrical engineer Arthur Edwin Kennelly (1861–1939) and the British physicist Oliver Heaviside (1850–1925). However, it was not until 1924 that its existence was detected by Edward V. Appleton and Miles Barnett.


The Es layer (sporadic E-layer) is characterized by small, thin clouds of intense ionization, which can support reflection of radio waves, rarely up to 225 MHz. Sporadic-E events may last for just a few minutes to several hours. Sporadic E propagation makes VHF-operating radio amateurs very excited, as propagation paths that are generally unreachable can open up. There are multiple causes of sporadic-E that are still being pursued by researchers. This propagation occurs most frequently during the summer months when high signal levels may be reached. The skip distances are generally around 1,640 km (1,020 mi). Distances for one hop propagation can be anywhere from 900 km (560 mi) to 2,500 km (1,600 mi). Double-hop reception over 3,500 km (2,200 mi) is possible.

F layer

The F layer or region, also known as the Appleton–Barnett layer, extends from about 150 km (93 mi) to more than 500 km (310 mi) above the surface of Earth. It is the layer with the highest electron density, which implies signals penetrating this layer will escape into space. Electron production is dominated by extreme ultraviolet (UV, 10–100 nm) radiation ionizing atomic oxygen. The F layer consists of one layer (F2) at night, but during the day, a secondary peak (labelled F1) often forms in the electron density profile. Because the F2 layer remains by day and night, it is responsible for most skywave propagation of radio waves and long distances high frequency (HF, or shortwave) radio communications.

Above the F layer, the number of oxygen ions decreases and lighter ions such as hydrogen and helium become dominant. This region above the F layer peak and below the plasmasphere is called the topside ionosphere.

From 1972 to 1975 NASA launched the AEROS and AEROS B satellites to study the F region.[10]

Ionospheric model

An ionospheric model is a mathematical description of the ionosphere as a function of location, altitude, day of year, phase of the sunspot cycle and geomagnetic activity. Geophysically, the state of the ionospheric plasma may be described by four parameters: electron density, electron and ion temperature and, since several species of ions are present, ionic composition. Radio propagation depends uniquely on electron density.

Models are usually expressed as computer programs. The model may be based on basic physics of the interactions of the ions and electrons with the neutral atmosphere and sunlight, or it may be a statistical description based on a large number of observations or a combination of physics and observations. One of the most widely used models is the International Reference Ionosphere (IRI),[11] which is based on data and specifies the four parameters just mentioned. The IRI is an international project sponsored by the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) and the International Union of Radio Science (URSI).[12] The major data sources are the worldwide network of ionosondes, the powerful incoherent scatter radars (Jicamarca, Arecibo, Millstone Hill, Malvern, St Santin), the ISIS and Alouette topside sounders, and in situ instruments on several satellites and rockets. IRI is updated yearly. IRI is more accurate in describing the variation of the electron density from bottom of the ionosphere to the altitude of maximum density than in describing the total electron content (TEC). Since 1999 this model is "International Standard" for the terrestrial ionosphere (standard TS16457).

Persistent anomalies to the idealized model

Ionograms allow deducing, via computation, the true shape of the different layers. Nonhomogeneous structure of the electron/ion-plasma produces rough echo traces, seen predominantly at night and at higher latitudes, and during disturbed conditions.

Winter anomaly

At mid-latitudes, the F2 layer daytime ion production is higher in the summer, as expected, since the Sun shines more directly on the Earth. However, there are seasonal changes in the molecular-to-atomic ratio of the neutral atmosphere that cause the summer ion loss rate to be even higher. The result is that the increase in the summertime loss overwhelms the increase in summertime production, and total F2 ionization is actually lower in the local summer months. This effect is known as the winter anomaly. The anomaly is always present in the northern hemisphere, but is usually absent in the southern hemisphere during periods of low solar activity.

Equatorial anomaly

Diurnal ionospheric current
Electric currents created in sunward ionosphere.

Within approximately ± 20 degrees of the magnetic equator, is the equatorial anomaly. It is the occurrence of a trough in the ionization in the F2 layer at the equator and crests at about 17 degrees in magnetic latitude. The Earth's magnetic field lines are horizontal at the magnetic equator. Solar heating and tidal oscillations in the lower ionosphere move plasma up and across the magnetic field lines. This sets up a sheet of electric current in the E region which, with the horizontal magnetic field, forces ionization up into the F layer, concentrating at ± 20 degrees from the magnetic equator. This phenomenon is known as the equatorial fountain.

Equatorial electrojet

The worldwide solar-driven wind results in the so-called Sq (solar quiet) current system in the E region of the Earth's ionosphere (ionospheric dynamo region) (100–130 km (62–81 mi) altitude). Resulting from this current is an electrostatic field directed west–east (dawn–dusk) in the equatorial day side of the ionosphere. At the magnetic dip equator, where the geomagnetic field is horizontal, this electric field results in an enhanced eastward current flow within ± 3 degrees of the magnetic equator, known as the equatorial electrojet.

Ephemeral ionospheric perturbations

X-rays: sudden ionospheric disturbances (SID)

When the Sun is active, strong solar flares can occur that hit the sunlit side of Earth with hard X-rays. The X-rays penetrate to the D-region, releasing electrons that rapidly increase absorption, causing a high frequency (3–30 MHz) radio blackout. During this time very low frequency (3–30 kHz) signals will be reflected by the D layer instead of the E layer, where the increased atmospheric density will usually increase the absorption of the wave and thus dampen it. As soon as the X-rays end, the sudden ionospheric disturbance (SID) or radio black-out ends as the electrons in the D-region recombine rapidly and signal strengths return to normal.

Protons: polar cap absorption (PCA)

Associated with solar flares is a release of high-energy protons. These particles can hit the Earth within 15 minutes to 2 hours of the solar flare. The protons spiral around and down the magnetic field lines of the Earth and penetrate into the atmosphere near the magnetic poles increasing the ionization of the D and E layers. PCA's typically last anywhere from about an hour to several days, with an average of around 24 to 36 hours. Coronal mass ejections can also release energetic protons that enhance D-region absorption in the polar regions.

Geomagnetic storms

A geomagnetic storm is a temporary intense disturbance of the Earth's magnetosphere.

  • During a geomagnetic storm the F₂ layer will become unstable, fragment, and may even disappear completely.
  • In the Northern and Southern pole regions of the Earth aurorae will be observable in the sky.


Lightning can cause ionospheric perturbations in the D-region in one of two ways. The first is through VLF (very low frequency) radio waves launched into the magnetosphere. These so-called "whistler" mode waves can interact with radiation belt particles and cause them to precipitate onto the ionosphere, adding ionization to the D-region. These disturbances are called "lightning-induced electron precipitation" (LEP) events.

Additional ionization can also occur from direct heating/ionization as a result of huge motions of charge in lightning strikes. These events are called early/fast.

In 1925, C. T. R. Wilson proposed a mechanism by which electrical discharge from lightning storms could propagate upwards from clouds to the ionosphere. Around the same time, Robert Watson-Watt, working at the Radio Research Station in Slough, UK, suggested that the ionospheric sporadic E layer (Es) appeared to be enhanced as a result of lightning but that more work was needed. In 2005, C. Davis and C. Johnson, working at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire, UK, demonstrated that the Es layer was indeed enhanced as a result of lightning activity. Their subsequent research has focused on the mechanism by which this process can occur.


Radio communication

Due to the ability of ionized atmospheric gases to refract high frequency (HF, or shortwave) radio waves, the ionosphere can reflect radio waves directed into the sky back toward the Earth. Radio waves directed at an angle into the sky can return to Earth beyond the horizon. This technique, called "skip" or "skywave" propagation, has been used since the 1920s to communicate at international or intercontinental distances. The returning radio waves can reflect off the Earth's surface into the sky again, allowing greater ranges to be achieved with multiple hops. This communication method is variable and unreliable, with reception over a given path depending on time of day or night, the seasons, weather, and the 11-year sunspot cycle. During the first half of the 20th century it was widely used for transoceanic telephone and telegraph service, and business and diplomatic communication. Due to its relative unreliability, shortwave radio communication has been mostly abandoned by the telecommunications industry, though it remains important for high-latitude communication where satellite-based radio communication is not possible. Some broadcasting stations and automated services still use shortwave radio frequencies, as do radio amateur hobbyists for private recreational contacts.

Mechanism of refraction

When a radio wave reaches the ionosphere, the electric field in the wave forces the electrons in the ionosphere into oscillation at the same frequency as the radio wave. Some of the radio-frequency energy is given up to this resonant oscillation. The oscillating electrons will then either be lost to recombination or will re-radiate the original wave energy. Total refraction can occur when the collision frequency of the ionosphere is less than the radio frequency, and if the electron density in the ionosphere is great enough.

A qualitative understanding of how an electromagnetic wave propagates through the ionosphere can be obtained by recalling geometric optics. Since the ionosphere is a plasma, it can be shown that the refractive index is less than unity. Hence, the electromagnetic "ray" is bent away from the normal rather than toward the normal as would be indicated when the refractive index is greater than unity. It can also be shown that the refractive index of a plasma, and hence the ionosphere, is frequency-dependent, see Dispersion (optics).[13]

The critical frequency is the limiting frequency at or below which a radio wave is reflected by an ionospheric layer at vertical incidence. If the transmitted frequency is higher than the plasma frequency of the ionosphere, then the electrons cannot respond fast enough, and they are not able to re-radiate the signal. It is calculated as shown below:

where N = electron density per m3 and fcritical is in Hz.

The Maximum Usable Frequency (MUF) is defined as the upper frequency limit that can be used for transmission between two points at a specified time.

where = angle of attack, the angle of the wave relative to the horizon, and sin is the sine function.

The cutoff frequency is the frequency below which a radio wave fails to penetrate a layer of the ionosphere at the incidence angle required for transmission between two specified points by refraction from the layer.

Other applications

The open system electrodynamic tether, which uses the ionosphere, is being researched. The space tether uses plasma contactors and the ionosphere as parts of a circuit to extract energy from the Earth's magnetic field by electromagnetic induction.



Scientists explore the structure of the ionosphere by a wide variety of methods. They include:

A variety of experiments, such as HAARP (High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program), involve high power radio transmitters to modify the properties of the ionosphere. These investigations focus on studying the properties and behavior of ionospheric plasma, with particular emphasis on being able to understand and use it to enhance communications and surveillance systems for both civilian and military purposes. HAARP was started in 1993 as a proposed twenty-year experiment, and is currently active near Gakona, Alaska.

The SuperDARN radar project researches the high- and mid-latitudes using coherent backscatter of radio waves in the 8 to 20 MHz range. Coherent backscatter is similar to Bragg scattering in crystals and involves the constructive interference of scattering from ionospheric density irregularities. The project involves more than 11 different countries and multiple radars in both hemispheres.

Scientists are also examining the ionosphere by the changes to radio waves, from satellites and stars, passing through it. The Arecibo radio telescope located in Puerto Rico, was originally intended to study Earth's ionosphere.


Ionograms show the virtual heights and critical frequencies of the ionospheric layers and which are measured by an ionosonde. An ionosonde sweeps a range of frequencies, usually from 0.1 to 30 MHz, transmitting at vertical incidence to the ionosphere. As the frequency increases, each wave is refracted less by the ionization in the layer, and so each penetrates further before it is reflected. Eventually, a frequency is reached that enables the wave to penetrate the layer without being reflected. For ordinary mode waves, this occurs when the transmitted frequency just exceeds the peak plasma, or critical, frequency of the layer. Tracings of the reflected high frequency radio pulses are known as ionograms. Reduction rules are given in: "URSI Handbook of Ionogram Interpretation and Reduction", edited by William Roy Piggott and Karl Rawer, Elsevier Amsterdam, 1961 (translations into Chinese, French, Japanese and Russian are available).

Incoherent scatter radars

Incoherent scatter radars operate above the critical frequencies. Therefore, the technique allows probing the ionosphere, unlike ionosondes, also above the electron density peaks. The thermal fluctuations of the electron density scattering the transmitted signals lack coherence, which gave the technique its name. Their power spectrum contains information not only on the density, but also on the ion and electron temperatures, ion masses and drift velocities.

GNSS radio occultation

Radio occultation is a remote sensing technique where a GNSS signal tangentially scrapes the Earth, passing through the atmosphere, and is received by a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite. As the signal passes through the atmosphere, it is refracted, curved and delayed. An LEO satellite samples the total electron content and bending angle of many such signal paths as it watches the GNSS satellite rise or set behind the Earth. Using an Inverse Abel's transform, a radial profile of refractivity at that tangent point on earth can be reconstructed.

Major GNSS radio occultation missions include the GRACE, CHAMP, and COSMIC.

Indices of the ionosphere

In empirical models of the ionosphere such as Nequick, the following indices are used as indirect indicators of the state of the ionosphere.

Solar intensity

F10.7 and R12 are two indices commonly used in ionospheric modelling. Both are valuable for their long historical records covering multiple solar cycles. F10.7 is a measurement of the intensity of solar radio emissions at a frequency of 2800 MHz made using a ground radio telescope. R12 is a 12 months average of daily sunspot numbers. Both indices have been shown to be correlated to each other.

However, both indices are only indirect indicators of solar ultraviolet and X-ray emissions, which are primarily responsible for causing ionization in the Earth's upper atmosphere. We now have data from the GOES spacecraft that measures the background X-ray flux from the Sun, a parameter more closely related to the ionization levels in the ionosphere.

Geomagnetic disturbances

  • The A- and K-indices are a measurement of the behavior of the horizontal component of the geomagnetic field. The K-index uses a scale from 0 to 9 to measure the change in the horizontal component of the geomagnetic field. A new K-index is determined at the Boulder Geomagnetic Observatory.
  • The geomagnetic activity levels of the Earth are measured by the fluctuation of the Earth's magnetic field in SI units called teslas (or in non-SI gauss, especially in older literature). The Earth's magnetic field is measured around the planet by many observatories. The data retrieved is processed and turned into measurement indices. Daily measurements for the entire planet are made available through an estimate of the Ap-index, called the planetary A-index (PAI).

GPS/GNSS ionospheric correction

There are a number of models used to understand the effects of the ionosphere global navigation satellite systems. The Klobuchar model is currently used to compensate for ionospheric effects in GPS. This model was developed at the US Air Force Geophysical Research Laboratory circa 1974 by John (Jack) Klobuchar.[14] The Galileo navigation system uses the NeQuick model.[15]

Ionospheres of other planets and natural satellites

Objects in the Solar System that have appreciable atmospheres (i.e., all of the major planets and many of the larger natural satellites) generally produce ionospheres. Planets known to have ionospheres include Venus, Uranus, Mars[16] and Jupiter.

The atmosphere of Titan includes an ionosphere that ranges from about 1,100 km (680 mi) to 1,300 km (810 mi) in altitude and contains carbon compounds.[17]

See also


  1. ^ Jones, Daniel (2003) [1917], Peter Roach, James Hartmann and Jane Setter, eds., English Pronouncing Dictionary, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-3-12-539683-8CS1 maint: Uses editors parameter (link)
  2. ^ "Ionosphere". Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
  3. ^ K. Rawer. Wave Propagation in the Ionosphere. Kluwer Acad.Publ., Dordrecht 1993. ISBN 0-7923-0775-5
  4. ^ John S. Belrose, "Fessenden and Marconi: Their Differing Technologies and Transatlantic Experiments During the First Decade of this Century Archived 2009-01-23 at the Wayback Machine". International Conference on 100 Years of Radio, 5–7 September 1995.
  5. ^ ""Marconi and the History of Radio"". IEEE Antennas and Propagation Magazine. 46.
  6. ^ "Gakona HAARPoon 2017". 2017-02-19. Archived from the original on 2017-02-20.
  7. ^ "Firsts in the Space Race. From an Australian perspective". Archived from the original on 11 September 2017. Retrieved 8 May 2018.
  8. ^ "Elizabeth A. Essex-Cohen Ionospheric Physics Papers etc". Archived from the original on 11 September 2017. Retrieved 8 May 2018.
  9. ^ Rose, D.C.; Ziauddin, Syed (June 1962). "The polar cap absorption effect". Space Science Reviews. 1 (1): 115. Bibcode:1962SSRv....1..115R. doi:10.1007/BF00174638.
  10. ^ Yenne, Bill (1985). The Encyclopedia of US Spacecraft. Exeter Books (A Bison Book), New York. ISBN 978-0-671-07580-4. p. 12 AEROS
  11. ^ Bilitza, 2001
  12. ^ "International Reference Ionosphere". Archived from the original on 2011-02-23. Retrieved 2011-11-08.
  13. ^ Lied, Finn (1967). High Frequency Radio Communications with Emphasis on Polar Problems. Advisory Group for Aerospace Research and Development. pp. 1–6.
  14. ^ "ION Fellow - Mr. John A. Klobuchar". Archived from the original on 4 October 2017. Retrieved 8 May 2018.
  15. ^ "Ionospheric Correction Algorithm for Galileo Single Frequency Users" (PDF). Galileo Open Service. Archived (PDF) from the original on 10 February 2018. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
  16. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-09-10. Retrieved 2015-10-31.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  17. ^ NASA/JPL: Titan's upper atmosphere Archived 2011-05-11 at the Wayback Machine Accessed 2010-08-25


  • Davies, Kenneth (1990). Ionospheric Radio. IEE Electromagnetic Waves Series #31. London, UK: Peter Peregrinus Ltd/The Institution of Electrical Engineers. ISBN 978-0-86341-186-1.
  • Hargreaves, J. K. (1992). The Upper Atmosphere and Solar-Terrestrial Relations. Cambridge University Press.
  • Kelley, M. C. (2009). The Earth's Ionosphere: Plasma Physics and Electrodynamics (2nd ed.). Academic Press. ISBN 9780120884254.
  • McNamara, Leo F. (1994). Radio Amateurs Guide to the Ionosphere. ISBN 978-0-89464-804-5.
  • Rawer, K. (1993). Wave Propagation in the Ionosphere. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publ. ISBN 978-0-7923-0775-4.
  • Bilitza, Dieter (2001). "International Reference Ionosphere 2000" (PDF). Radio Science. 36 (2): 261–275. Bibcode:2001RaSc...36..261B. doi:10.1029/2000RS002432.
  • J. Lilensten, P.-L. Blelly: Du Soleil à la Terre, Aéronomie et météorologie de l'espace, Collection Grenoble Sciences, Université Joseph Fourier Grenoble I, 2000. ISBN 978-2-86883-467-6.
  • P.-L. Blelly, D. Alcaydé: Ionosphere, in: Y. Kamide, A. Chian, Handbook of the Solar-Terrestrial Environment, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg, pp. 189–220, 2007. doi:10.1007/11367758_8
  • Volland, H. (1984). Atmospheric Electrodynamics. Berlin: Springer Verlag.
  • Schunk, R. W.; Nagy, A. F. (2009). "Ionospheres: Physics, Plasma Physics, and Chemistry". Eos Transactions (2nd ed.). 82 (46): 556. Bibcode:2001EOSTr..82..556K. doi:10.1029/01EO00328. ISBN 9780521877060.

External links

1967 in spaceflight

The year 1967 in spaceflight saw more orbital launches than any other year before, including that of the first Australian satellite, WRESAT, which was launched from the Woomera Test Range atop an American Sparta rocket. The United States National Space Science Data Center catalogued 172 spacecraft placed into orbit by launches which occurred in 1967.The year saw both setbacks and advances for the United States Apollo programme. Three astronauts; Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Ed White and Roger B. Chaffee, were killed in a fire aboard the AS-204 spacecraft at Cape Kennedy Launch Complex 34 on 27 January whilst rehearsing the launch. On 20 October the Saturn V rocket made its maiden flight.

1969 in spaceflight

1969 saw humanity step onto another world for the first time. On 21 July 1969, the Apollo 11 Lunar Module, Eagle, landed on the moon's surface with two astronauts aboard. Days later the crew of three returned safely to Earth, satisfying U.S. President John F. Kennedy's 1962 challenge of 25 May 1961, that "this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth."There were four Apollo missions in total in 1969, three of which traveled to the moon, with Apollo 12 also landing on the surface. The success of the Apollo program was a testament to the efforts of over 500,000 American engineers, scientists and technicians.

In 1969, the Soviet Union's space program had success with the docking of two manned spacecraft as well as the success of their Venus and Lunar probes. The Soviets, however, suffered severe blows to their manned Lunar aspirations when their N1 rocket failed twice during two 1969 launches.

Arecibo Observatory

The Arecibo Observatory is a radio telescope in the municipality of Arecibo, Puerto Rico. This observatory is operated by University of Central Florida, Yang Enterprises and UMET, under cooperative agreement with the US National Science Foundation (NSF). The observatory is the sole facility of the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center (NAIC), which is the formal name of the observatory. From its construction in the 1960s until 2011, the observatory was managed by Cornell University.

For more than 50 years, from its completion in 1963 until July 2016 when the Five hundred meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) in China was completed, the Arecibo Observatory's 1,000-foot (305-meter) radio telescope was the world's largest single-aperture telescope. It is used in three major areas of research: radio astronomy, atmospheric science, and radar astronomy. Scientists who want to use the observatory submit proposals that are evaluated by an independent scientific board.

The observatory has appeared in film, gaming and television productions, gaining more recognition in 1999 when it began to collect data for the SETI@home project. It has been listed on the US National Register of Historic Places starting in 2008. It was the featured listing in the US National Park Service's weekly list of October 3, 2008. The center was named an IEEE Milestone in 2001. It has a visitor center that is open part-time.On September 21, 2017, high winds associated with Hurricane Maria caused the 430 MHz line feed to break and fall onto the primary dish, damaging about 30 out of 38,000 aluminum panels. Most Arecibo observations do not use the line feed but instead rely on the feeds and receivers located in the dome. Overall, the damage inflicted by Maria was minimal.

Birkeland current

A Birkeland current is a set of currents that flow along geomagnetic field lines connecting the Earth’s magnetosphere to the Earth's high latitude ionosphere. In the Earth’s magnetosphere, the currents are driven by the solar wind and interplanetary magnetic field and by bulk motions of plasma through the magnetosphere (convection indirectly driven by the interplanetary environment). The strength of the Birkeland currents changes with activity in the magnetosphere (e.g. during substorms). Small scale variations in the upward current sheets (downward flowing electrons) accelerate magnetospheric electrons which, when they reach the upper atmosphere, create the Auroras Borealis and Australis. In the high latitude ionosphere (or auroral zones), the Birkeland currents close through the region of the auroral electrojet, which flows perpendicular to the local magnetic field in the ionosphere. The Birkeland currents occur in two pairs of field-aligned current sheets. One pair extends from noon through the dusk sector to the midnight sector. The other pair extends from noon through the dawn sector to the midnight sector. The sheet on the high latitude side of the auroral zone is referred to as the Region 1 current sheet and the sheet on the low latitude side is referred to as the Region 2 current sheet.

The currents were predicted in 1908 by Norwegian explorer and physicist Kristian Birkeland, who undertook expeditions north of the Arctic Circle to study the aurora. He rediscovered, using simple magnetic field measurement instruments, that when the aurora appeared the needles of magnetometers changed direction, confirming the findings of Anders Celsius and assistant Olof Hjorter more than a century before. This could only imply that currents were flowing in the atmosphere above. He theorized that somehow the Sun emitted a cathode ray, and corpuscles from what is now known as a solar wind entered the Earth’s magnetic field and created currents, thereby creating the aurora. This view was scorned by other researchers, but in 1967 a satellite, launched into the auroral region, showed that the currents posited by Birkeland existed. In honour of him and his theory these currents are named Birkeland currents. A good description of the discoveries by Birkeland is given in the book by Jago.Professor Emeritus of the Alfvén Laboratory in Sweden, Carl-Gunne Fälthammar wrote: "A reason why Birkeland currents are particularly interesting is that, in the plasma forced to carry them, they cause a number of plasma physical processes to occur (waves, instabilities, fine structure formation). These in turn lead to consequences such as acceleration of charged particles, both positive and negative, and element separation (such as preferential ejection of oxygen ions). Both of these classes of phenomena should have a general astrophysical interest far beyond that of understanding the space environment of our own Earth."

Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere, and Climate

Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere, and Climate (COSMIC) is a program designed to provide advances in meteorology, ionospheric research, climatology, and space weather by using GPS satellites in conjunction with low Earth orbiting (LEO) satellites. The term "COSMIC" may refer to either the organization itself or the constellation of satellites (also known as FORMOSAT-3, 福爾摩沙衛星三號, in Taiwan). The constellation is a joint U.S.-Taiwanese project with major participants including the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), the National Science Foundation, the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) on the U.S. side and the National Space Organization (NSPO) on the Taiwanese side.

The total cost of the spacecraft and launch was US$100 million, 80% of which was being provided by NSPO, and the remainder by various U.S. agencies.After experiencing several delays, the launch of the COSMIC satellite constellation atop a Minotaur launch vehicle from Vandenberg AFB occurred at 01:40 GMT, on April 15, 2006, despite heavy fog. The satellites, which orbit at an altitude of 500 miles, required over a year to move into the correct positions to provide full global coverage.

Dynamic Ionosphere CubeSat Experiment

The Dynamic Ionosphere CubeSat Experiment (DICE) is a scientific mission consisting of two Miniaturized Satellites DICE-1 and DICE-2 flying in formation. The satellites are an unusual 1.5U variant of the CubeSat design for microsatellites. Both satellites were launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in October 2011 atop a Delta II rocket. This was a multi-payload mission with four other CubeSats, AubieSat-1, M-Cubed, Explorer-1_Prime and RAX-2.

The satellites are intended to map changes in the Earth's Plasmasphere caused by Geomagnetic storms.

On board control is provided by a Pumpkin FM430 flight control module containing a Texas Instruments MPS430 microcontroller. Communications are provided by a half-duplex UHF modem with a 1.5 Mbit/s downlink (465 MHz) and 19.2 kbit/s uplink (450 MHz). The satellites carry four Electric Field Probe sensors on telescopic booms, two DC Langmuir probes for detection of ions and a three-axis magnetometer for measuring magnetic fields.

Earth–ionosphere waveguide

The Earth–ionosphere waveguide refers to the phenomenon in which certain radio waves can propagate in the space between the ground and the boundary of the ionosphere.

Because the ionosphere contains charged particles, it can behave as a conductor. The earth operates as a ground plane, and the resulting cavity behaves as a large waveguide.

Extremely low frequency (ELF) (< 3 kHz) and very low frequency (VLF)

(3–30 kHz) signals can propagate efficiently in this waveguide. For instance, lightning strikes launch a signal called radio atmospherics, which can travel many thousands of miles, because they are confined between the Earth and the ionosphere.

The round-the-world nature of the waveguide produces resonances, like a cavity, which are at ~7 Hz.

Explorer 8

Explorer 8 was an American research satellite launched on November 3, 1960. It was intended to study the temporal and spatial distribution of the electron density, the electron temperature, the ion concentration, the ion mass, the micrometeorite distribution, and the micrometeorite mass in the ionosphere at altitudes between 400 and 1600 km and their variation from full sunlit conditions to full shadow, or nighttime, conditions.

The payload was in the form of two truncated cones with the bases attached to a cylindrical equator. The outer shell was aluminum and had a diameter of 76 cm and a height of 76 cm. The 108.00 MHz transmitter had 100 mW average power, and it functioned for the life of the battery pack (54 days). The data system included telemetry consisting of continuous operation with real-time transmission.

To avoid the possibility of effects on the experiments by asymmetrical charging on solar cell surfaces, solar cells were not used.

Experiment instrumentation included an RF impedance probe, an ion current monitor, a retarding potential probe, a two-element and a three-element electron temperature probe, an electron current monitor, a photomultiplier-type and a microphone-type micrometeorite detector, an electric field meter, a solar horizon sensor, and thermistor temperature probes. Simultaneous measurements of electron and ion concentration were used to resolve the question of neutrality of the medium.

Battery power failed on December 27, 1960. Considerable difficulty was encountered with decommutating the telemetered data to make machine processing possible. As a result of these difficulties, the data were mostly processed by hand. In spite of these difficulties, considerable new knowledge about the ionosphere was gained from operation of the satellite. Explorer 8 decayed from orbit on 28 March 2012.

A replica is on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.

High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program

The High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) was initiated as an ionospheric research program jointly funded by the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). It was designed and built by BAE Advanced Technologies (BAEAT). Its original purpose was to analyze the ionosphere and investigate the potential for developing ionospheric enhancement technology for radio communications and surveillance. As a university-owned facility, HAARP is a high-power, high-frequency transmitter used for study of the ionosphere.

The most prominent instrument at HAARP is the Ionospheric Research Instrument (IRI), a high-power radio frequency transmitter facility operating in the high frequency (HF) band. The IRI is used to temporarily excite a limited area of the ionosphere. Other instruments, such as a VHF and a UHF radar, a fluxgate magnetometer, a digisonde (an ionospheric sounding device), and an induction magnetometer, are used to study the physical processes that occur in the excited region.

Work on the HAARP facility began in 1993. The current working IRI was completed in 2007; its prime contractor was BAE Systems Advanced Technologies. As of 2008, HAARP had incurred around $250 million in tax-funded construction and operating costs. In May 2014, it was announced that the HAARP program would be permanently shut down later in the year. After discussions between the parties, ownership of the facility and its equipment was transferred to the University of Alaska Fairbanks in August 2015.HAARP is a target of conspiracy theorists, who claim that it is capable of "weaponizing" weather. Commentators and scientists say that advocates of this theory are uninformed, as claims made fall well outside the abilities of the facility, if not the scope of natural science.

Kennelly–Heaviside layer

The Kennelly–Heaviside layer, named after Arthur E. Kennelly and Oliver Heaviside, also known as the E region or simply the Heaviside layer, is a layer of ionised gas occurring between roughly 90–150 km (56–93 mi) above the ground — one of several layers in the Earth's ionosphere. It reflects medium-frequency radio waves. Because of this reflective layer, radio waves radiated into the sky can return to Earth beyond the horizon. This "skywave" or "skip" propagation technique has been used since the 1920s for radio communication at long distances, up to transcontinental distances.

Propagation is affected by time of day. During the daytime the solar wind presses this layer closer to the Earth, thereby limiting how far it can reflect radio waves. Conversely, on the night (lee) side of the Earth, the solar wind drags the ionosphere further away, thereby greatly increasing the range which radio waves can travel by reflection, called skywave. The extent of the effect is further influenced by the season, and the amount of sunspot activity.


A magnetosphere is a region of space surrounding an astronomical object in which charged particles are manipulated or affected by that object's magnetic field. It is created by a planet having an active interior dynamo.

In the space environment close to a planetary body, the magnetic field resembles a magnetic dipole. Farther out, field lines can be significantly distorted by the flow of electrically conducting plasma, as emitted from the Sun or a nearby star. e.g. the solar wind. Planets having active magnetospheres, like the Earth, are capable of mitigating or blocking the effects of solar radiation or cosmic radiation, that also protects all living organisms from potentially detrimental and dangerous consequences. This is studied under the specialized scientific subjects of plasma physics, space physics and aeronomy.

Near vertical incidence skywave

Near vertical incidence skywave, or NVIS, is a skywave radio-wave propagation path that provides usable signals in the range between groundwave and conventional skywave distances—usually 50–650 km (30–400 miles). It is used for military and paramilitary communications, broadcasting, especially in the tropics, and by radio amateurs for nearby contacts circumventing line-of-sight barriers. The radio waves travel near-vertically upwards into the ionosphere, where they are refracted back down and can be received within a circular region up to 650 km (400 miles) from the transmitter. If the frequency is too high (that is, above the critical frequency of the ionospheric F layer), refraction fails to occur and if it is too low, absorption in the ionospheric D layer may reduce the signal strength.

There is no fundamental difference between NVIS and conventional skywave propagation; the practical distinction arises solely from different desirable radiation patterns of the antennas (near vertical for NVIS, near horizontal for conventional long-range skywave propagation).

Observatory for Heteroscale Magnetosphere-Ionosphere Coupling

The Observatory for Heteroscale Magnetosphere-Ionosphere Coupling ('OHMIC) is a mission concept proposed in 2011 to NASA's Explorers program consisting of a pair of spacecraft flying in formation studying the energy powering space weather. The Principal Investigator for the mission is James Burch of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. The concept was not selected for development at that time.

The mission proposed to investigate how magnetospheric electromagnetic energy flows downward to power aurora, and study how ion outflows are initiated and modify the underlying ionosphere. Specifically, it would "investigate the coupling of Earth's magnetosphere and ionosphere focusing on the conversion of electromagnetic energy into particle energy in auroral acceleration regions." To this end, the two spacecraft would measure electron distributions, ion distributions, and vector electric and magnetic fields for determining how charged-particle acceleration and injection vary in time and space.

Radio propagation

Radio propagation is the behavior of radio waves as they travel, or are propagated, from one point to another, or into various parts of the atmosphere. As a form of electromagnetic radiation, like light waves, radio waves are affected by the phenomena of reflection, refraction, diffraction, absorption, polarization, and scattering. Understanding the effects of varying conditions on radio propagation has many practical applications, from choosing frequencies for international shortwave broadcasters, to designing reliable mobile telephone systems, to radio navigation, to operation of radar systems.

Several different types of propagation are used in practical radio transmission systems. Line-of-sight propagation means radio waves which travel in a straight line from the transmitting antenna to the receiving antenna. Line of sight transmission is used to medium range radio transmission such as cell phones, cordless phones, walkie-talkies, wireless networks, FM radio and television broadcasting and radar, and satellite communication, such as satellite television. Line-of-sight transmission on the surface of the Earth is limited to the distance to the visual horizon, which depends on the height of transmitting and receiving antennas. It is the only propagation method possible at microwave frequencies and above. At microwave frequencies, moisture in the atmosphere (rain fade) can degrade transmission.

At lower frequencies in the MF, LF, and VLF bands, due to diffraction radio waves can bend over obstacles like hills, and travel beyond the horizon as surface waves which follow the contour of the Earth. These are called ground waves. AM broadcasting stations use ground waves to cover their listening areas. As the frequency gets lower, the attenuation with distance decreases, so very low frequency (VLF) and extremely low frequency (ELF) ground waves can be used to communicate worldwide. VLF and ELF waves can penetrate significant distances through water and earth, and these frequencies are used for mine communication and military communication with submerged submarines.

At medium wave and shortwave frequencies (MF and HF bands) radio waves can refract from a layer of charged particles (ions) high in the atmosphere, called the ionosphere. This means that radio waves transmitted at an angle into the sky can be reflected back to Earth beyond the horizon, at great distances, even transcontinental distances. This is called skywave propagation. It is used by amateur radio operators to talk to other countries, and shortwave broadcasting stations that broadcast internationally. Skywave communication is variable, dependent on conditions in the upper atmosphere; it is most reliable at night and in the winter. Due to its unreliability, since the advent of communication satellites in the 1960s, many long range communication needs that previously used skywaves now use satellites.

In addition, there are several less common radio propagation mechanisms, such as tropospheric scattering (troposcatter) and near vertical incidence skywave (NVIS) which are used in specialized communication systems.

Schumann resonances

The Schumann resonances (SR) are a set of spectrum peaks in the extremely low frequency (ELF) portion of the Earth's electromagnetic field spectrum. Schumann resonances are global electromagnetic resonances, generated and excited by lightning discharges in the cavity formed by the Earth's surface and the ionosphere.


In radio communication, skywave or skip refers to the propagation of radio waves reflected or refracted back toward Earth from the ionosphere, an electrically charged layer of the upper atmosphere. Since it is not limited by the curvature of the Earth, skywave propagation can be used to communicate beyond the horizon, at intercontinental distances. It is mostly used in the shortwave frequency bands.

As a result of skywave propagation, a signal from a distant AM broadcasting station, a shortwave station, or – during sporadic E propagation conditions (principally during the summer months in both hemispheres) a distant VHF FM or TV station – can sometimes be received as clearly as local stations. Most long-distance shortwave (high frequency) radio communication – between 3 and 30 MHz – is a result of skywave propagation. Since the early 1920s amateur radio operators (or "hams"), limited to lower transmitter power than broadcast stations, have taken advantage of skywave for long distance (or "DX") communication.

Skywave propagation is distinct from:

groundwave propagation, where radio waves travel near Earth's surface without being reflected or refracted by the atmosphere – the dominant propagation mode at lower frequencies,

line-of-sight propagation, in which radio waves travel in a straight line, the dominant mode at higher frequencies.

Solar wind Magnetosphere Ionosphere Link Explorer

Solar wind Magnetosphere Ionosphere Link Explorer (SMILE) is a planned joint venture mission between the European Space Agency and the Chinese Academy of Sciences to study the interaction between Earth's magnetosphere and the solar wind, while simultaneously monitoring the magnetosphere's plasma environment. Launch is expected in 2023.

Sudden ionospheric disturbance

A sudden ionospheric disturbance (SID) is an abnormally high ionization/plasma density in the D region of the ionosphere caused by a solar flare and/or solar particle event (SPE). The SID results in a sudden increase in radio-wave absorption that is most severe in the upper medium frequency (MF) and lower high frequency (HF) ranges, and as a result often interrupts or interferes with telecommunications systems.


The TIMED (Thermosphere Ionosphere Mesosphere Energetics and Dynamics) is an orbiter mission dedicated to study the dynamics of the Mesosphere and Lower Thermosphere (MLT) portion of the Earth's atmosphere. The mission was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on December 7, 2001 aboard a Delta II rocket launch vehicle. The project is sponsored and managed by NASA, while the spacecraft was designed and assembled by the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University. The mission has been extended several times, and has now collected data over an entire solar cycle, which helps in its goal to differentiate the Sun's effects on the atmosphere from other effects.

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.