A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches Taiwan’s Formosat-5 Earth observation satellite on Aug. 24, 2017, from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch last year generated a record-setting shock wave in the atmosphere of the Earth is four times larger than the state of California, a new study reports.
The shockwave that during the August 2017 launch of Taiwan on the Earth observing Formosat-5 satellite is circular, in contrast to the V-shaped shock waves produced by the most missiles, study team members said.
And it was very, very large. [SpaceX Launches Formosat-5 Satellite, Land Rocket (Photos)]
“We have seen many cases of a rocket-produced disturbance, but there is never been something that has to be perfectly round and with the big [a],” the study’s lead author, Charles Lin, a geophysicist at the National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan, said in a statement.
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Shock waves zoom through the atmosphere faster than the speed of sound. These waves are invisible to the naked eye, but researchers can map their outlines, by analyzing GPS data.
That is exactly what Lin and his colleagues did for the shockwave that is generated by the Formosat-5 launch from California Vandenberg Air Force Base. This work has allowed them to be distinguished from the gulf is the huge size, and to determine that the launch also punched a temporary hole in the ionosphere part of the earth’s upper atmosphere that extends from about 45 to 620 km (75 to 1000 km altitude.
The hole was created by the interaction of the water vapor in the Falcon 9 from the outlet with charged particles in the ionosphere over California, one of the researchers said. Such ionospheric disturbances can mess with GPS signals, and this hole may have caused navigation errors of up to 3.3 feet (1 meter) for an hour or two after the launch, according to the study.
Lin and his team also carried out computer simulations of rocket launches, which suggested that the August 2017 shockwave the large size and odd shape were due to the unique trajectory taken by the Falcon 9.
Missiles usually a curved path to the space and drop-off satellites is approximately 120 miles (200 km), at which point the payloads maneuver to their last jobs. But Formosat-5 was an extremely light load, so the Falcon 9 traveled almost straight up and put the satellite onto its final destination, 450 miles (720 km) above the earth’s surface.
Such analyses will likely become increasingly important as the cost of building and lofting satellites continue to fall, Lin and his colleagues said.
“Understanding how the rocket launches influence on our upper layers of the atmosphere and space is important, since these anthropogenic space weather events it is expected that at a huge rate in the near future,” the researchers wrote in the new study, which was published in January in the journal Space Weather.
Originally published on Space.com.