On March 25, 2000, a Boeing Delta II rocket blasted into the afternoon sky above the United States' Western Range at 12:34:43 PST. Its payload: the IMAGE spacecraft, a half-ton Earth-orbiting satellite carrying some of the most sophisticated imaging instruments ever to be flown in the near-Earth space environment. After a flight of some 56 minutes, at speeds reaching almost 22,000 mph, IMAGE was inserted into an elliptical orbit about the Earth's poles and began its two-year mission. The mission objective: to obtain the first global images of the major plasma regions and boundaries in the Earth's inner magnetosphere and to study the dynamic response of these plasma populations to variations in the flow of charged particles from the Sun.

IMAGE's "New Eyes"

To achieve its mission objective, IMAGE employs a variety of imaging techniques: the detection of energetic neutral atom (ENA) emissions from the ring current, inner plasma sheet, and polar ionospheric outflows; plasmaspheric imaging at extreme ultraviolet (EUV) wavelengths; radio sounding of the magnetopause and other boundary layers; and imaging of far-ultraviolet (FUV) auroral emissions. These are the "new eyes" with which IMAGE views the inner magnetosphere, rendering its invisible plasmas visible and discovering new aspects of our geospace "landscape." Using these various techniques, IMAGE is obtaining global images of different regions simultaneously, making it possible to relate processes occurring in one region to events observed in another, different region.

The Big Picture vs. Isolated Pixels

To date, the regions that IMAGE is studying have been investigated largely on the basis of measurements made by single spacecraft at single, isolated points in space. The understanding derived from such localized measurements is, by necessity, partial and fragmented. IMAGE is providing the missing global context, the "big picture" that will allow space researchers, for the first time, to study the Earth's magnetosphere as a coherent global system of interacting components, driven by the highly variable input of mass, momentum, and energy from the solar wind. The IMAGE mission coincides with solar maximum, a period of the most intense solar activity during which the Earth is frequently buffeted by explosive eruptions of plasma from the Sun and during which the level of magnetospheric activity is correspondingly high.

To learn more about IMAGE, visit our pages describing the IMAGE mission, spacecraft, and instrumentation. The IMAGE Glossary offers brief tutorials on key terms and concepts in magnetospheric physics that are relevant to the IMAGE science objectives, while the "POETRY" education and public outreach site provides an opportunity to query a space scientist on line about any aspect of space science or the IMAGE mission. The POETRY site also contains a number of space-science-related activities and curricula for middle- and high-school students.


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