Join RFO and Dr. John W. Bonnell from the Space Sciences Laboratory, UC Berkeley via Zoom for an informative conversation on "The NASA GREECE Sounding Rocket Campaign: Uncovering the Iceberg One Flight at a Time."
The aurora – the Northern and Southern lights – are one of the most visible, dynamic, and beautiful manifestations of Earth’s connection to the near-Earth and interplanetary environment. Space physicists and geophysicists probe the properties and drivers of the aurora through a wide range of techniques In order to understand better the sources of energy that drive the aurora and the physical processes that produce the dramatic changes in shape, color, and motion of the aurora. These techniques utilize a variety of tools: ground cameras and spectrometers; radio receivers and radar installations; orbital satellite and sub-orbital sounding rocket measurements of electromagnetic fields and charge particle fluxes.
As part of NASA’s efforts to understand the aurora, the NASA GREECE sounding rocket campaign in Feb-Mar 2014 utilized high-resolution ground-based cameras and spectrometers to view the aurora flown over by the GREECE sounding rocket payload while it measured the energetic electrons responsible for the aurora, as well as the electric and magnetic fields associated with their variations.
This evening, we share a primer on the causes and behavior of the aurora; images, movies, and data taken during the month-long GREECE launch campaign; and our ongoing efforts to understand the physics of the aurora.
Dr. John Bonnell was born in El Paso, TX. He grew up in New Mexico, Montana, and Colorado, spending most of his grade school years in southern Jefferson Country, just outside Littleton.
He did his undergraduate work in Physics at UC Berkeley, and worked in the Space Physics Research Group (SPRG) at the UC Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory (UCB SSL) while a student and during a pair of gap years before graduate studies. He did his doctoral studies in Plasma Physics and Electrical Engineering at Cornell in the Space Plasma Physics group, working on spectral and interferometric studies of auroral waves and their role in ion acceleration.
After Cornell, Bonnell took a post doc with the Space and Atmospheric Physics group at Los Alamos Nat’l Laboratory, working on meso-scale auroral electrodynamics in the auroral oval and polar cap and characterization of ion distributions across the dayside magnetopause.
He took his current position as a Research Associate and Project Physicist at UCB SSL in late 1999. His focus since the early 2000’s has been the design, implementation, and use of electric field instrumentation for Heliophysics applications. He has been involved in several NASA satellite missions as a hardware and science team member (THEMIS/ARTEMIS (2007 onward), Van Allen Probes (2012-2019), Parker Solar Probe (2018 onward), and TRACERS (launch in 2024-25). Since 2013, he has been actively involved in the NASA sounding rocket program as a PI, Co-I, and member of the Sounding Rocket Working Group, and has brought geospace sounding rockets back to SSL after a nearly 15 year hiatus. He has provided the EM fields packages for several sounding rocket campaigns as a principal investigator or team member, starting with GREECE (2014), and continuing through TRICE-2 (2018), VIPER (2021), INCAA (2022), ACES2 (2022), and RENU3 (2025).