An observational technique first proposed more than four decades ago to measure the physical parameters of the corona that determine the formation of the solar wind -- the source of disturbances in Earth's upper atmosphere -- will be demonstrated for the first time next year.

These parameters are the density, temperature, and speed of electrons in the corona.

Nat Gopalswamy and Jeff Newmark, heliophysicists at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, plan to demonstrate BITSE -- short for the Balloon-borne Investigation of Temperature and Speed of Electrons in the corona -- aboard a high-altitude scientific balloon from Ft. Sumner, New Mexico, next fall.

However, the BITSE coronagraph has added features that can measure some very important properties of the solar wind, which can travel as fast as a million miles per hour as it flows off the Sun carrying charged particles or plasma and embedded magnetic fields outward across the solar system.

No coronagraph has ever done this before," said Gopalswamy, who used Goddard's Internal Research and Development program funding to advance BITSE.

Understanding the source of the solar wind, which determines how space weather-causing coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, propagate between the Sun and Earth, can help improve space-weather forecasts, particularly in the near-Earth environment where changes can sometimes interfere with radio communications or GPS.

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