NASA’s GOLD instrument captures its first image of the Earth

Shown here is the “first light” image of ultraviolet atomic oxygen emission (135.6 nm wavelength) from the Earth’s upper atmosphere captured by NASA’s GOLD instrument. It was taken at approximately 6 a.m. local time, near sunrise in eastern South America. The colors correspond to emission brightness, with the strongest shown in red and the weakest in blue. This emission is produced at altitudes around 160 km (note how it extends above the Earth’s surface on the horizon), when the Earth’s upper atmosphere absorbs high energy photons and particles. The aurora, at the top and bottom of the image, and daytime airglow, on the right hand side, are also visible. An ultraviolet star, 66 Ophiuchi (HD 164284), is visible above the western horizon of the Earth. Outlines of the continents and a latitude-longitude grid have been added for reference. (Courtesy LASP/GOLD science team)

NASA’s Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk, or GOLD, instrument powered on and opened its cover to scan the Earth for the first time, resulting in a “first light” image of the Western Hemisphere in the ultraviolet. GOLD will provide unprecedented global-scale imaging of the temperature and composition at the dynamic boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space.

The instrument was launched from Kourou, French Guiana, on Jan. 25, 2018, onboard the SES-14 satellite and reached geostationary orbit in June 2018. After checkout of the satellite and communications payload, GOLD commissioning—the period during which the instrument performance is assessed—began on Sept. 4.

Team scientists conducted one day of observations on Sept. 11, during instrument checkout, enabling them to produce GOLD’s “first light” image shown here. Commissioning will run through early October, as the team continues to prepare the instrument for its planned two-year science mission.

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