FAST is one in the series of NASA Small Explorer (SMEX) spacecraft. Dr. C. W.
Carlson, from the University of California at Berkeley is the Principal
Investigator for this spacecraft, which is exploring the Earth's auroral
zones. The FAST spacecraft was launched on August 21st, 1996 into a 400
x 4000 km altitude near polar orbit. The primary purpose of this spacecraft
is to measure particles and fields with high temporal and spatial resolution
in the regions where electrons are energized to form the aurora, and ions
are accelerated out of the ionosphere into the magnetosphere. The processes
involved include electric field acceleration and wave heating, and the
FAST measurements will allow us to understand how these processes occur.
In addition, the particles carry currents along the Earth's magnetic field,
and also generate radio waves. The currents allow electrodynamic coupling
between the Earth's magnetosphere and ionosphere, while the radio waves,
known as Auroral Kilometric Radiation, make the Earth a radio-astronomical
object, like Jupiter.
The UCLA group is analyzing data from the FAST magnetometers. They will
investigate the currents that flow in the auroral zone, and the electromagnetic
waves associated with these currents, such as whistler-mode "saucers", Alfven waves, and Auroral Kilometric Radiation.
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