Air Force News Service

Jun 2, 1998

Scientists make new discovery in stratosphere

By Kevin Gilmartin, Electronic Systems Center Public Affairs

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. (AFNS) -- Scientists from the Air Force Research Laboratory's Space Vehicles Directorate here, recently discovered concentric bulls-eye-like rings in the upper stratosphere, 25 miles above the ground. The scientists said the rings are caused by thunderstorms.

The discovery came from examining images from a satellite's infrared imager and may help to one day identify ballistic missiles.

Many scientists have theorized that atmospheric disturbances such as thunderstorms create "gravity waves" that ripple across the atmosphere like waves from a dropped pebble ripple across a pond.

This theory was confirmed from space when the scientists observed the ripples on images from an experiment on board the Midcourse Space Experiment satellite. They then matched up the centers of the wave patterns to meteorological satellite images taken one to two hours earlier depicting a small isolated high altitude thundercloud.

Understanding what natural patterns exist in the atmosphere is essential to identifying a target such as a ballistic missile.

"To detect a missile from a space-based platform, it is essential to identify any background clutter, so you can be certain that what you are seeing is in fact a missile," said Hanscom scientist Dr. Edmond Dewan.

Also, understanding how the energy and momentum of the waves is deposited throughout the upper atmosphere could help scientists understand atmospheric dynamics, energy balance and perhaps even how these effects contribute to and are affected by global warming.

"There is a great deal of interest in our findings, and this is the genesis of a new set of proposals to NASA and other space agencies incorporating these techniques," said Hanscom scientist Dr. Richard Picard. "We are also shipping our data to the designers of the next generation of Defense Department sensors for their use."

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