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IMAGE mission graphic

Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration

Phase: Past

Launch Date: March 25, 2000

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Program(s):Heliophysics Research

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IMAGE studied the global response of the magnetosphere to changes in the solar wind. Major changes occur to the configuration of the magnetosphere as a result of changes in and on the Sun, which in turn change the solar wind. IMAGE used neutral atom, ultraviolet, and radio imaging techniques to detect and gather data on these changes.

The IMAGE spacecraft was launched from Vandenberg AFB on March 25, 2000, at 20:34:43 UT. IMAGE is the first satellite mission dedicated to imaging the Earth's magnetosphere, the region of space controlled by the Earth's magnetic field and containing extremely tenuous plasmas of both solar and terrestrial origin. Invisible to standard astronomical observing techniques, these populations of ions and electrons have traditionally been studied by means of localized measurements with charged particle detectors, magnetometers, and electric field instruments. Instead of such in-situ measurements, IMAGE employs a variety of imaging techniques to "see the invisible" and to produce the first comprehensive global images of the plasma populations in the inner magnetosphere. With these images, space scientists are able to observe, in a way never before possible, the large-scale dynamics of the magnetosphere and the interactions among its constituent plasma populations.

The IMAGE mission will address three broad science questions that lie at the heart of our efforts to understand the geospace environment and its response to the solar wind:

  • What are the dominant mechanisms for injecting plasma into the magnetosphere on the time scales of substorms and geomagnetic storms?

  • What is the directly driven response of the magnetosphere to changes in the solar wind?

  • How and where are magnetospheric plasmas energized, transported, and lost during geomagnetic storms and magnetospheric substorms?