Cornell leads the expansion of the Jicamarca radar observatory

Cornell is renewing and expanding searches at the Gicamarca Observatory – the world’s largest non-correlated radar system – thanks to grants of more than $12 million that will help scientists understand “space weather” that affects satellites and other technologies associated with Earth’s upper atmosphere. .

Located in Lima, Peru, Jicamarca employs more than 18,000 dipole antennas spread over 90,000 square meters of desert terrain to transmit radio signals into space and gather valuable information about Earth’s ionosphere and beyond.

Cornell led research operations for most of the observatory’s existence, dating back to the 1960s when NASA began sending people into space and scientists wanted to learn more about the physics of space weather, the perturbations caused by the radiation blasts that solar flares throw toward Earth.

said David Hysell, director of Jicamarca and Thomas R. Professor of Engineering in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. “Space is a hostile environment, and as the solar flux rises, people will be reminded that these operating systems are fragile and not resistant to the effects of weather in space.”

The National Science Foundation recently awarded Jicamarca $8.65 million to continue operations over the next five years, and an additional $1.25 million for facility upgrades scheduled to begin in 2023. The upgrades will allow permanent high-energy placement operations at the facility and increase radar sensitivity. .

It would be possible to measure the parameters of the atmosphere to exit into the plasmasphere. “This is an order of magnitude further than any other radar facility doing observations at the moment,” Hessel said, adding that the radar signals would be powerful enough to penetrate the lunar surface, helping scientists search for water and other lunar discoveries.

Hysell hopes the upgrades will be powerful enough to bounce signals off the solar corona, the outermost region of the sun’s atmosphere — something no other radar facility has been able to do, according to Hysell. If successful, this technology could provide the basis for a whole new level of space weather forecasting.

A $2.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Key Research Instruments Program will provide further improvements to the observatory, allowing it to build and deploy two new radio array facilities in Peru. The new facilities will work in concert with the existing Jicamarca group, creating a triangulation effect that will allow the observatory to perform volumetric 3D imaging.

Heysel said the grant — led by Fabiano Rodriguez, Ph.D. 2008, who is now an assistant professor of physics at the University of Texas, Dallas – will enable many research projects targeting scientific puzzles in the ionosphere. One of these projects will examine the meteor radar glow, the radio waves emitted by meteors.

“This is a really new and exciting phenomenon,” Heysel said. “Our radar can actually see the little rock, that little meteor, that has left the track and can be scattered from ionization behind. Then the new facilities will see radio emissions from it. It’s really sophisticated.”

All upgrades are expected to be completed by the end of 2023.

Seal Kakaber is Associate Director of Marketing and Communications in the College of Engineering.