Royal Society Publishing

Imaging of near-Earth space plasma

Cathryn N. Mitchell


This paper describes the technique of imaging the ionosphere using tomographic principles. It reports on current developments and speculates on the future of this research area. Recent developments in computing and ionospheric measurement, together with the sharing of data via the internet, now allow us to envisage a time when high–resolution, real–time images and ‘movies’ of the ionosphere will be possible for radio communications planning. There is great potential to use such images for improving our understanding of the physical processes controlling the behaviour of the ionosphere. While real–time images and movies of the electron concentration are now almost possible, forecasting of ionospheric morphology is still in its early stages. It has become clear that the ionosphere cannot be considered as a system in isolation, and consequently new research projects to link together models of the solar–terrestrial system, including the Sun, solar wind, magnetosphere, ionosphere and thermosphere, are now being proposed. The prospect is now on the horizon of assimilating data from the entire solar–terrestrial system to produce a real–time computer model and ‘space weather’ forecast. The role of tomography in imaging beyond the ionosphere to include the whole near–Earth space–plasma realm is yet to be realized, and provides a challenging prospect for the future. Finally, exciting possibilities exist in applying such methods to image the atmospheres and ionospheres of other planets.

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