Ionospheric Topside Sounding

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Science  14 Oct 1966:
Vol. 154, Issue 3746, pp. 228-234
DOI: 10.1126/science.154.3746.228


Over the past few years, the satellite topside sounders have significantly contributed to the understanding of the upper ionosphere. A great quantity of radio echo data has been accumulated, from which the ionospheric electrondensity distribution can be determined.

The topside measurements of electron density essentially agree with similar measurements from the ground, except for an occasional 10-percent discrepancy near the peak of the ionosphere. While horizontal non-uniformity is a likely cause, this discrepancy has not yet been adequately explained.

The electron-density scale heights measured at a constant altitude indicate both a higher temperature and a heavier mean ion mass at high latitudes. At low latitudes the topside measurements have shown the detailed latitudinal structure of the equatorial anomaly, demonstrating control by the geomagnetic field.

A variety of electron-density irregularities have been studied. Most are greatly elongated along the magnetic field, and produce echoes either by lateral scattering, if they are thin, or by longitudinal ducting, if they are thick. Some of the thick irregularities are continuous between the hemispheres and support conjugate echo propagation.

The topside sounders have revealed the complex structure of the ionosphere near the auroral zone and at higher latitudes. At night an east-west trough of greatly reduced electron density occurs equatorward of the auroral zone. At the auroral zone itself the electron density is high and quite variable, both in space and time. The electron density at the polar cap within the auroral zone is often uniform and smooth. Ionospheric irregularities are common in the area of the trough and the auroral zone.

Among other satellites, the topside sounders have been used in various plasma studies involving the excitation and propagation of waves. These studies suggest that the ionosphere is an appropriate region for future plasma physics investigations, especially with rocket and satellite payloads designed specifically for that purpose.

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