Elon Musk’s SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket ripped a gigantic hole in the atmosphere that was as powerful as a small volcano and may have impaired GPS satellites. On August 24, 2017, SpaceX launched the Falcon 9 rocket from an airbase in California. The rocket, which was transporting the Taiwanese Earth observation satellite Formosat-5, tore a 560-mile hole in the ionosphere.
Rockets that jet into space can leave a hole in the atmosphere, but the Falcon 9 left an unusually large hole in the Earth’s atmosphere because its payload was too light. The Falcon 9 was transporting the Formosat-5, which only weighed 1,047 pounds. Usually, rockets carry much heavier payloads, which forces the rockets to have a trajectory that is arched to reduce the effect of gravity.
Only 13 minutes after the Falcon 9’s launch, the spacecraft was able to leave Earth on a near-vertical path and punch a hole in the atmosphere because the payload was lighter than usual. The Falcon 9 not only left circular shockwaves, but also left a nearly 560-mile hole in the plasma of the ionosphere. The hole was temporary and only lasted up to three hours.
The ionosphere is an upper layer of the atmosphere that spans from 37 miles to 620 miles altitude. The ionosphere has particles that have been ionized by solar and cosmic radiation. The ionosphere includes the thermosphere and parts of the mesosphere and exosphere. The ionosphere is important for humans because it influences radio propagation, which allows radio signals to bounce off and make their way back to the Earth.
In a paper published in Space Weather, the lead author of the study Charles C. H. Lin from the National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan, describes a rocket launch like “a small volcano erupting, unloading energy into the middle and upper atmosphere in a way that’s comparable to what we see from a magnetic storm.”
Science is metal.