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Division of Polar Programs

Vladimir Papitashvili
vpapita@nsf.gov, (703) 292-7425


13-527  Program Solicitation

The polar regions have been called Earth's window to outer space. This term originally applied to study of the aurora and other phenomena related to interaction of solar wind (ionized plasma blown from the Sun) with the Earth's magnetosphere. In this context, the polar upper atmosphere is a screen on which the results of such interaction can be viewed and through which other evidence of space physics processes can pass. Today, the concept of Earth's polar atmosphere as a window also includes research in other fields. For example, favorable atmospheric conditions and the unique location of Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station on the high Antarctic plateau enable astronomers and astrophysicists to use this window to understand better the internal structure of the Sun, to study our Milky Way and other galaxies, and to probe the early Universe with unprecedented precision. Antarctica's deep, clear ice sheet also is a window, providing a transparent medium for detection of neutrinos - elusive particles that fill space and easily pass through Earth. The cubic-kilometer IceCube Neutrino Observatory is being built in the ice sheet at the South Pole to make use of this dense, transparent medium.

The Antarctic Astrophysics and Geospace Sciences Program supports studies of three major domains:

  • Middle and upper atmosphere - mesosphere and thermosphere. Current research focuses on atmospheric temperature changes and dynamics of neutral winds at altitudes from 30 to a few hundred kilometers, particularly in the context of planetary atmospheric tides and climate change dynamics. The polar upper atmosphere that extends to near-earth space (geospace) is expected to be a field of continued interest and growth.

  • Near-Earth solar wind, magnetosphere, and ionosphere. This geospace domain derive many of its characteristics from the interplay of the solar wind's ionized plasma flow and energetic charged particles with Earth's magnetic field. The ionosphere is the ultimate sink of solar wind energy and momentum that are transported into the coupled magnetosphere and ionosphere. This energy dissipates in the ionosphere by precipitating charged particles as a result, in part, of resonant wave-particle interactions, and because of the Joule heating that is a result of currents driven by electric fields.

  • Astronomy and astrophysical studies of the Universe, including cosmic ray and solar physics.  Astrophysical studies are primarily conducted at South Pole Station and on NASA's long-duration balloon flights launched from McMurdo.  Research proposals to exploit the special capabilities of these research platforms are welcome.  Proposals in astronomy and astrophysics for work at another nation's Antarctic facility are welcome, but they must be collaborative with scientists from the other nation, who are leading the project at their nation's facility.

Major goals are to sponsor research that requires or would benefit from the unique conditions of the southern polar region, to contribute to the understanding of the role of the Antarctic in global environmental processes, or to improve understanding of the Universe.  Participation in interdisciplinary studies of the middle and upper atmosphere help to improve understanding of the coupling of the Earth's polar atmosphere with the ionosphere and magnetosphere and of the ways in which both are affected by solar activity.

IceCube--A 1-cubic-kilometer, international high-energy neutrino observatory
South Pole Telescope
Antarctic Ozone Hole Watch page, Goddard Space Flight Center/NASA

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