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Dartmouth News reports that Professor of Physics and Astronomy Kristina Lynch is on a NASA short-list for space environment missions with her plan to use shall “cube sats” to study the processes that contribute to auroras (northern and southern lights). Some of the engineering work would be done at UNH, which has a long history supporting space science. See the story here.

The five possible projects will each receive $1.25 million to support a nine-month concept study report, after which NASA will select as many as two to launch as $250 million multiyear space missions.

Lynch’s multi-institutional team would put into orbit a “swarm” of 32 mini satellites that would measure electricity and magnetism as they pass over the northern and southern auroral lights. The small rectangular spacecraft would transmit the data to the ground to be combined with data from 32 small ground-based observatories spread across Alaska.

The resulting data—crucial to understanding the physics at the border between Earth’s atmosphere and space—would provide insight into the entire magnetospheric system surrounding Earth, Lynch said in her proposal.

And while it’s outside the scope of her project, Lynch trusts her observations might prove useful to planetary scientists.

“Jupiter has aurora. Saturn has aurora. Uranus has aurora. Some of the moons have aurora,” she says. “So getting a better understanding of what the visible aurora tells you about the space environment is, for me, one of the motivating factors.”

Lynch and her team worked for more than two years to ready her proposal, receiving assistance from Dartmouth, UNH, the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, and New Hampshire’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR).

“There’s been a lot of New Hampshire support for getting it to this point, so we trust that we bring something back to the state,” Lynch says. “A lot of the engineering and management will be based at UNH, and a lot of the science will be based at Dartmouth, so it will be a big project. And it will be fun, too.”

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