Jicamarca Radio Observatory—Advancing Space Weather Science

Roughly 80–1,000 kilometers above the Earth’s surface, extreme ultraviolet radiation from the sun separates electrons from atoms and molecules in the upper atmosphere, creating a highly ionized plasma environment that hosts unique space weather phenomena. For example, at night when solar radiation decreases, low-density pockets of ions near the equator can form so-called equatorial plasma bubbles that are known to disturb radio and satellite communications.

The Jicamarca Radio Observatory near Lima, Perú, is the premiere facility in the world for studying space physics and the unique space weather phenomena that occur at or near the equator. The observatory’s incoherent scatter radar is the most sensitive radar of its kind for observing plasma disturbances. Owned and operated by the Instituto Geofísico del Perú, the observatory represents a long-standing collaboration between Peru, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and Cornell University. David L. Hysell, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, serves as the principal investigator on the NSF award that supports the observatory. With this renewal of NSF funding, research at the Jicamarca Radio Observatory is focusing on new classes of plasma phenomena and processes unique to the equatorial zone, including investigations of 1) upper-hybrid plasma instability in the daytime 150-kilometer region, 2) solar echo phenomena, 3) multifrequency plasma irregularity, and 4) the effects of coulomb collisions on the incoherent radar spectrum.

This research will advance understanding of the equatorial and low-latitude ionosphere; help create avant-garde radar and radio remote-sensing techniques; expand educational opportunities in STEM by directly supporting undergraduate and graduate students; and train the next generation of space physicists, radio scientists, and technicians.

Cornell Researchers

Funding Received

$8.6 Million spanning 5 years