Indian origin professor leads NASA study of ionosphere during eclipse

Wednesday 17th April 2024 07:46 EDT

WASHINGTON: On April 8, the US experienced a remarkable total solar eclipse that captivated millions of spectators across the country. However, beyond its awe-inspiring visual spectacle, the celestial event provided a unique opportunity for scientific exploration, particularly for researchers aiming to delve into the Earth’s upper atmosphere, known as the ionosphere.

Leading the charge in this crucial research endeavor was Dr Aroh Barjatya, a Professor of Engineering Physics at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida.

Originally from Jaipur, Barjatya spearheaded a pioneering project in collaboration with NASA. The mission involved launching three rockets into the ionosphere, a layer of charged particles situated between 90 and 500 kilometers above the Earth’s surface.

Solar eclipses are known to disrupt radio signals transmitted through the ionosphere, affecting communication and power systems worldwide, including mobile phones and televisions. Barjatya’s mission aimed to quantify this disruption and gain a deeper understanding of the phenomenon, with the ultimate goal of mitigating communication breakdowns during future eclipses.

Each rocket was strategically launched: the first 45 minutes before the eclipse, the second during totality, and the third 45 minutes after. Equipped with specialized instruments, no larger than a two-liter soda bottle, these rockets meticulously recorded changes in charged and neutral particles, as well as the electromagnetic field, at altitudes of up to 420 kilometers.

The data collected during this mission will be instrumental in unraveling the intricate interaction between the Sun’s radiation and the Earth’s upper atmosphere during a solar eclipse.

Barjatya’s expertise extends beyond mission leadership. He is the founding director of the Space-Atmospheric Instrument Lab at Embry-Riddle University, where he has been instrumental in advancing research in space systems and atmospheric science.

With a prolific track record in securing funding for space exploration projects, Barjatya has written or co-written 11 successful proposals totaling over $74M. He has overseen numerous space flight projects from inception to launch, demonstrating his comprehensive understanding of spacecraft instrumentation and systems engineering.

As a tenured Full Professor and Program Coordinator for the Engineering Physics program at Embry-Riddle, Barjatya has played a pivotal role in shaping the department’s strategic direction and fostering academic excellence. He is an active member of various academic societies and serves on prestigious committees such as the NASA Heliophysics Advisory Committee and the NASA Space Environment Technical Definition Team.

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