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Satellite MATS takes its first image of the upper atmosphere

On November 9th, it was time for MATS to take the first images of the atmosphere. At 10:32 CET, MATS was approaching Esrange Space Center – a centre for space activities and satellite communication located about 40 kilometers east of the town of Kiruna in northern Sweden. At that moment, the control center, operated by OHB Sweden that built the MATS satellite platform, came in contact with the satellite via the tracking antenna at Esrange.

MATS light
First image from MATS of the atmosphere. This is airglow at heights of around 80-100 km that is emitted by energy-rich oxygen molecules. The picture was taken at infrared wavelengths but the colours have been added during the analysis. Photo: Swedish National Space Agency

Since its launch from New Zealand, Mats has circled the Earth 15 times a day. By studying the Earth's upper atmosphere, MATS will collect information about atmospheric waves, thus contributing important pieces to the puzzle of the global climate system. Scientists all over the world are eagerly awaiting the results.

 

Instruments on MATS were switched on

On Sunday November 6th , Linda Megner, researcher at the Department of Meteorology, Stockholm University, and MATS Project Leader (scientific instruments and data analysis) confirmed that the instruments that MATS is carrying are functioning as they should.

“We switched on the instruments and all the CCDs [image sensors]. Current- and voltage levels agree very well with the tests on the ground prior to launch. All CCDs started without problems. [...] On Wednesday [November 9th ], we plan to take the first pictures. So only good news so far - we're keeping our fingers crossed that it continues like this,” wrote Linda Megner in an email to the Swedish National Space Agency.

 

MATS takes its first image of the upper atmosphere

Esrange Space Station in Kiruna
Esrange Space Station in Kiruna. Photo: Lars Poromaa/Esrange

On Wednesday November 9th, it was time for MATS to take the first images of the atmosphere. At 10:32 CET, MATS was approaching Esrange Space Center – a centre for space activities and satellite communication located about 40 kilometers east of the town of Kiruna in northern Sweden. At that moment, the control center, operated by OHB Sweden that built the MATS satellite platform, came in contact with the satellite via the tracking antenna at Esrange.

“On this occasion, MATS took its very first picture, viewing the atmosphere northwest of Esrange,” says Linda Megner. “Since then, we have received over 8000 pictures!”

 

Three-dimensional structure of the atmosphere

The picture was taken at infrared wavelengths but the colours have been added during the analysis to make the image visible to the eye, explains Jörg Gumbel, Professor at the Department of Meteorology, Stockholm University and  MATS Principal Investigator. The grainy image shows a band of light emitted by molecules high up in the atmosphere:

“This is airglow at heights of around 80-100 km that is emitted by energy-rich oxygen molecules. It is absolutely fantastic that we see this layer of light already in the first image,” Jörg Gumbel remarks.

The plan is to take many such images, about 60.000 a day, and put them together to create three-dimensional images of the atmosphere. This will be the starting point for identifying atmospheric waves and to improve our understanding of the waves’ role in the climate system.

“First we need to calibrate the data and remove artifacts before we can apply our tomography algorithms. So the 3-D results will not be ready until next year,” clarifies Linda Megner.

Read more: Swedish research satellite to be launched into space from New Zealand

Read all about the MATS project at the Department of Meteorology's website.