Elon Musk’s SpaceX Falcon 9 tore a hole in the atmosphere

Here’s how the hole was caused, and what the damage means for us.

  • Published: March 27, 2018 11:10 AM IST

Elon Musk-owned SpaceX almost ruled this month with its historic launch of the Falcon Heavy. Within the same month, SpaceX is back in news, but this does not look very positive. With more launches than Russia last year, SpaceX Falcon 9 made waves in 2017, but looks like those waves tore a hole in the ionosphere.

Some scientists have determined that the launch of the company’s Falcon 9 rocket in August last year punched a temporary hole into a layer of the Earth’s atmosphere nearly 900 kilometers wide. For the ones who weren’t paying attention during the atmosphere lesson in school, the ionosphere is the layer of our planet’s upper atmosphere between 75 kilometers and 1,000 kilometers, where the sun’s energy and cosmic radiation ionize atoms. At this layer, the solar and cosmic rays strip atoms in the area of one or more of their electrons, giving them a positive charge and leaving the electrons to act as free particles.

This layer also facilitates radio communications across distant points on Earth as well as between satellites and Earth. For a better perspective, this is the part of the atmosphere where auroras occur. It overlaps the mesosphere, thermosphere, and exosphere.

Now, how was this caused?

In order to be able to carry larger and heavier objects, space crafts generally take a curving trajectory instead of a straight up vertical path, else gravity would cause a bit of trouble. But, since Falcon 9 was light enough, the rocket took a near vertical path into space. This caused the Falcon 9 booster and second stage to create circular shockwaves and punch the large hole through the plasma of the ionosphere.

There is nothing to freak yet. This was a temporary hole and lasted only three hours. However, the problem here is that as commercial rockets take more satellites into orbit, the disruptions in the ionosphere will happen more often. Which could in turn cause a more permanent damage.

  • Published Date: March 27, 2018 11:10 AM IST