SpaceX's Falcon 9 Rocket Burned a 560-Mile Hole in the Atmosphere

Bill Ingalls, NASA/Getty Images
Bill Ingalls, NASA/Getty Images

On August 24, 2017, Elon Musk's aerospace company SpaceX launched and landed one of its Falcon 9 rockets. While it's not the most powerful rocket in SpaceX's arsenal, the shockwaves from the trip were strong enough to tear a 560-mile-wide hole through a layer of the atmosphere, Fortune reports.

The rupture occurred in the ionosphere between 50 and 620 miles above Earth. Most rockets are able to make it past this layer without disturbing it by curving their trajectory. When a rocket flies almost parallel to the ground, it burns less rocket fuel fighting the force of gravity, leaving more to lift it and its payload past Earth's atmosphere.

For Falcon 9, this wasn't necessary: Its only cargo was an Earth observation satellite for Taiwan’s National Space Organization that weighed about 1050 pounds. This relatively light burden allowed the rocket to follow a nearly vertical route into orbit. This had an unintended consequence: As the Falcon 9's booster and second stage fired, it radiated circular shockwaves that ate through the ionosphere, leaving an opening that remained for nearly three hours.

The temporary hole didn't have disastrous effects on the environment, and it's likely that future launches with the same results won't either. (It's also not the first time a rocket has created a hole in the ionosphere [PDF].) But one area that might be affected is human technology. The ionosphere is the place where radiation from the Sun and space ionizes atoms, stripping them of one or more of their electrons and giving them a positive charge. This blanket of ions and free elections in the atmosphere reflects radio waves, making satellite or radio-based transmissions possible.

When there's a large chunk of plasma missing from the ionosphere, GPS accuracy takes a hit. According to a report in the journal Space Weather, the hole left by Falcon 9 may have caused a error of a few feet in GPS services for its duration. Under the right conditions, it's possible that rocket-caused holes in the ionosphere could throw off GPS calculations by more than 65 feet.

The shock waves of a single rocket like Falcon 9 aren't enough to cause chaos, but as rocket launches become more common, scientists will need to take a closer look at this effect.

[h/t Fortune]

How to Livestream Tonight’s Super Pink Moon

Matt Cardy/Stringer/Getty Images
Matt Cardy/Stringer/Getty Images

On April 7, 2020, a super pink moon will appear over the horizon. Though it's not actually pink (the name's meaning comes from the wildflower Phlox subulata, or moss pink), the supermoon is still worth seeing. Today, the moon will reach the closest point to Earth in its orbit just hours before becoming completely full, which adds up to give us the biggest and brightest supermoon of the year. And no matter where you are in the world, you can livestream the spectacle online.

Slooh, a celestial event streaming service, will begin broadcasting the super pink moon at 7:30 p.m. ET tonight, April 7. A team of astronomy experts and educators will be joining the feed to provide commentary until the stream ends. You can tune in through Slooh's Facebook live event or YouTube channel for free, or you can become a member to watch it on their website.

Slooh has telescopes around the world that allow users to explore space from their computers. If you sign up for a membership today, you'll be able to capture and share photos of the supermoon, virtually interact with the experts at the live event, and personally control Slooh’s telescopes to customize your view of the moon. And when tonight's event is over, you'll still be able to virtually control Slooh's six telescopes in the Canary Islands and four telescopes in Chile throughout the year.

A basic, annual membership with Slooh costs $100. If you're a student, the service is offering a limited-edition price of $20 for individuals. The deal aims to promote remote teaching and learning during a time when schools around the world are closed.

For people living in cities with light pollution, celestial livestreams are a great alternative to real-life stargazing. Slooh isn't the only platform airing tonight's event. Today, the Virtual Telescope Project in Italy will host its own livestream of the super pink moon on YouTube.

A Super Pink Moon—the Biggest Supermoon of 2020—Is Coming In April

April's super pink moon will be extra big and bright (but still white).
April's super pink moon will be extra big and bright (but still white).
jakkapan21/iStock via Getty Images

The sky has already given us several spectacular reasons to look up this year. In addition to a few beautiful full moons, we’ve also gotten opportunities to see the moon share a “kiss” with Venus and even make Mars briefly disappear.

In early April, avid sky-gazers are in for another treat—a super pink moon, the biggest supermoon of 2020. This full moon is considered a supermoon because it coincides with the moon’s perigee, or the point in the moon’s monthly orbit when it’s closest to Earth. According to EarthSky, the lunar perigee occurs on April 7 at 2:08 p.m. EST, and the peak of the full moon follows just hours later, at 10:35 p.m. EST.

How a supermoon is different.

Since the super pink moon will be closer to Earth than any other full moon this year, it will be 2020’s biggest and brightest. It’s also the second of three consecutive supermoons, sandwiched between March’s worm moon and May’s flower moon. Because supermoons only appear about 7 percent bigger and 15 percent brighter than regular full moons, you might not notice a huge difference—but even the most ordinary full moon is pretty breathtaking, so the super pink moon is worth an upward glance when night falls on April 7.

The meaning of pink moon.

Despite its name, the super pink moon will still shine with a normal golden-white glow. As The Old Farmer’s Almanac explains, April’s full moon derives its misleading moniker from an eastern North American wildflower called Phlox subulata, or moss pink, that usually blooms in early April. It’s also called the paschal moon, since its timing helps the Catholic Church set the date for Easter (the word paschal means “of or relating to Easter”).

[h/t EarthSky]