On the wide field of Alert Kristian Gaard in Salangen stands a single antenna. It looks a bit lost, yet it serves an important purpose: about 20 meters from the Norwegian's house, it continuously receives signals from an altitude of 90 kilometers. It is one of four new devices that scientists from the Leibniz Institute for Atmospheric Physics in Kühlungsborn have now installed in northern Norway. The goal of the project, officially named SIMONe Norway, is to measure reflections from meteor trails to obtain information about horizontal winds in the atmosphere.
"Our concept is unique in the world", says Prof. Dr. Jorge Chau, who heads the institute's radar sounding department. "Usual radars can only detect meteors that reflect their signals directly back to the transmit-receive site. We've extended that principle and flipped the interferometry." Chau's team developed new, smaller receivers that require only one antenna and can be installed quickly and inexpensively. As a result, the researchers can detect significantly more meteors - about 1,500 per hour, depending on the location, time of day and the year.
It took four hours to set up the antenna and receiver on Alert Kristian Gaard's property. "It's great to have private individuals participating in our research who normally have nothing to do with science", says Dr. Ralph Latteck of the institute, who coordinated the setup of the four Norwegian stations. "All we need is a small patch of uncultivated farmland and an electrical outlet for the receiver. We're ready to go."
The Kühlungsborn-based institute researches the middle atmosphere and plays a major role in the ALOMAR observatory in Norway. The team set up the first SIMONe stations in Argentina and Peru in 2018. This was followed last year by devices in northern Norway. Winds measured by the system provide researchers with information about motions in the mesosphere. "This will allow us to improve the wind determination", Latteck says.
Because the system is straightforward to expand, the researchers plan to add more stations in northern Norway to scan as much sky as possible. In February 2023, the antennas will receive special attention: their measurement data will support the Vortex international rocket campaign in Norway, which is part of NASA's sounding rocket program.