Researchers win NASA funding to study Earth's bow shock effects

Researchers win NASA funding to study Earth's bow shock effects

University of Iowa researchers have received funding from NASA to study the effects of the hazardous radiation environment around the Earth generated by the supersonic, heated wind from the sun.

Gregory Howes, associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, and Stephen Baek, assistant professor in Industrial and Systems Engineering in the College of Engineering, will lead a team that will investigate how the interaction of the solar wind and the Earth’s boundary with space energizes particles and accelerates them to high energies. The region where the solar wind impacts Earth’s magnetic field is called the bow shock, and its effects can influence activities on our planet.

“An improved understanding of particle acceleration at shocks will help us to predict the extreme conditions of space weather that can damage GPS and communication satellites and can also harm astronauts. In addition, this data will help us develop a more fundamental understanding of what processes generate the most energetic particles in the universe,” Howes says.

The NASA award is for $1.2 million over three years. The Iowa researchers will collaborate with scientists from the University of Chicago, Princeton University, and NASA Goddard to employ cutting-edge supercomputer simulations and sophisticated machine learning algorithms to predict and identify the characteristic signatures of the particle energization at the Earth’s bow shock, ultimately seeking these signatures in spacecraft observations from NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale mission