On March 25, 2000, a
Boeing Delta II rocket blasted into the
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;
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
IMAGE Glossary offers brief tutorials on key terms
and concepts in magnetospheric physics that are relevant to the IMAGE science
objectives, while the
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