The invisible clouds of plasma near Earth play an important role in such diverse phenomena as the Northern Lights and the mysterious outages of satellite technology. IMAGE helps scientists see these invisible clouds for the first time, and track their movements through time and space.
IMAGE = Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration
It is located in a polar, Earth orbit with a perigee of 1000 kilometers and an apogee of 46,000 kilometers. Its orbit period is 13.7 hours.
Launched on March 25, 2000, the IMAGE observatory is a spin-stabilized spacecraft that measures 2.25 meters (7.4 feet) in diameter and 1.52 meters (4.99 feet) in height and weighs 494 kg (1087 pounds) (including instruments). Viewed from either end, it has the form of a regular octagon. Its most intriguing feature is the antenna used for the Radio Plasma Imager experiment. The antenna consists of four wires the size of a human hair, which extend 1,800 meters from tip to tip.
IMAGE research will attempt to identify the dominant mechanisms for injecting plasma into the magnetosphere during events called magnetic storms. These storms change from minute-to-minute. The satellite will keep watch on the varuious plasma and current systems within the magnetosphere to study how these change during solar storms. In particular, scientists are anxious to understand just how and where plasmas are energized, transported, and subsequently lost during magnetic storms.