NASA study The formation of ice crystals in the atmosphere poses a danger to airplanes

With the aim of improving jet engine design and enhancing aviation safety, NASA is studying the formation of ice crystals at high altitudes through its DC-8 airborne laboratory. This study is part of NASA’s High Glacier Content (HIWC) study. The team of researchers is conducting a flight campaign in which they fly over the heart of large thunderstorms to understand how ice crystals affect the performance of aircraft engines. They fly off the southeastern coast of the United States and the Gulf of Mexico in July.

NASA has also conducted such research campaigns before. This time, however, the researchers focused on man-made aerosols. “For this campaign, we are doing something a little different. Our priority is to conduct flights in areas with man-made aerosols to better understand their impact on the growth of ice crystals at high concentrations.” speak Thomas Ratvasky, HIWC principal investigator from NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.

Aerosols can form both naturally or from anthropogenic sources. Industrial emissions, combustion fossil fuel, and agricultural activities are some of the sources of aerosol generation. Once they are released into the atmosphere, the aerosols can be carried across the ocean. They tend to interact with bonding systems, and it has been hypothesized that aerosols can increase the concentration of ice crystals in thunderstorms.

These ice crystals endanger aircraft flying through thunderstorms by impeding the performance and power of jet engines. In addition, they can also affect the equipment fitted on the aircraft and can lead to false and inaccurate readings.

Therefore, the researchers wanted to study the aerosol and collect more data that would be useful for improving flight safety standards.

“We wanted to make sure that environments with a lot of aerosols were represented in this dataset. Many of today’s engines aren’t necessary to demonstrate the ability to fly in these ice-crystal conditions, says Ratvasky, but future engines will, Ratvasky said.

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