On February 24, 1996, NASA launched Polar, the first satellite over the north and south poles to perform atmospheric studies of radiation. Polar orbited the Earth passing over each pole within an approximate 18-hour period. As the Earth rotated beneath Polar‘s orbit, the satellite could complete an investigation of the whole of Earth’s atmosphere pole to pole every two weeks.
One of its key tasks was to measure the pressure, velocity and temperature of the ionized or electrically charged particles entering into Earth’s polar regions controlled by our planet’s own magnetic field. Solar flares, solar wind, and Earth’s polar magnetic fields combine at the poles to create storm-like geomagnetic activity that disrupts certain communications systems and holds specific dangers to spacecraft. These storms can produce auroras that are visible in zones around each pole.
Views from PIXIE — the Polar Ionospheric X-ray Imaging Experiment — the instrument aboard the POLAR spacecraft that imaged the earth’s aurora in x-rays.
Polar worked so well, its mission was extended for over a decade.
B Bondar / Real World Content Advantage