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]

Amazon's Under-the-Radar Coupon Page Features Deals on Home Goods, Electronics, and Groceries

Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Now that Prime Day is over, and with Black Friday and Cyber Monday still a few weeks away, online deals may seem harder to come by. And while it can be a hassle to scour the internet for promo codes, buy-one-get-one deals, and flash sales, Amazon actually has an extensive coupon page you might not know about that features deals to look through every day.

As pointed out by People, the coupon page breaks deals down by categories, like electronics, home & kitchen, and groceries (the coupons even work with SNAP benefits). Since most of the deals revolve around the essentials, it's easy to stock up on items like Cottonelle toilet paper, Tide Pods, Cascade dishwasher detergent, and a 50 pack of surgical masks whenever you're running low.

But the low prices don't just stop at necessities. If you’re looking for the best deal on headphones, all you have to do is go to the electronics coupon page and it will bring up a deal on these COWIN E7 PRO noise-canceling headphones, which are now $80, thanks to a $10 coupon you could have missed.

Alternatively, if you are looking for deals on specific brands, you can search for their coupons from the page. So if you've had your eye on the Homall S-Racer gaming chair, you’ll find there's currently a coupon that saves you 5 percent, thanks to a simple search.

To discover all the deals you have been missing out on, head over to the Amazon Coupons page.

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Uranus Reaches Opposition on Halloween in 2020

Christine Schmitt, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Christine Schmitt, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Uranus is roughly 1.75 billion miles away from Earth, which makes it difficult to spot without a telescope most nights. But on Saturday, October 31, the seventh planet from the sun will be worth looking for. Uranus reaches opposition that night, making it appear extra bright in the night sky.

What Is Uranus at Opposition?

An opposition occurs when the Earth falls perfectly between another planet and the sun. When this happens, the sun's light appears to fully illuminate the planet's surface, boosting its brightness level to the maximum.

Uranus reaches opposition on October 31 in 2020. During this event, Uranus will hit a limiting magnitude of 5.86, which is about the minimum brightness for what's visible with the naked eye.

How to Look for Uranus at Opposition

Spotting Uranus at opposition will be slightly more difficult in 2020 than in years past. The phenomenon coincides with a full moon that will make dimmer stars and planets—including Uranus—harder to see in the night sky. The planet sits in the constellation Aries, which regrettably appears close to the moon for most of the night.

Uranus should appear as a small, blue-green disc when using a telescope. Even if you have trouble spotting the seventh planet, it will still be worth checking out the night sky on October 31: Halloween this year coincides with a rare blue moon.