Radio Science

First observations of HF heater-produced airglow at the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program facility: Thermal excitation and spatial structuring


  • Todd R. Pedersen,

  • Herbert C. Carlson


HF heater-produced artificial airglow emissions at 630.0 nm were detected at the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) ionospheric research facility near Gakona, Alaska (62.39° N 145.15° W), for the first time in March 1999. HF excitation was identified by virtue of two measurements: A region of emissions enhanced 50-60 R above the background of ∼100 R was observed in the approximate region illuminated by the HF heater beam; and the rise and decay of the airglow followed the HF transmitter on/off cycle with time constants of approximately 80 s and 50 s, respectively. The observations were made in close proximity to the natural aurora, which gradually moved southward over the site during the experiment and eventually overwhelmed the much weaker artificial airglow. Significant structure in the airglow region was observed, including an overall equatorward displacement relative to the nominal transmitter beam, preferential occurrence of intensity maxima along the overhead field line up to and including magnetic zenith, and periods of elongation of the airglow region along the magnetic meridian and later parallel to the encroaching auroral zone. We discuss potential sources of this structuring of the emission shape including auroral plasma transport and neutral winds. Transmitter frequencies of 3.1–3.3 MHz matched the ionospheric plasma frequency near the F region peak at high altitudes of 300–350 km. We identify the primary mechanism behind excitation of the 630.0 nm airglow as thermal electron excitation on the basis of this evidence, along with thermal balance arguments, further substantiated by the observed asymmetry in rise and decay times and a lack of detectable emissions at 557.7 nm.