Space Science Reviews

, Volume 168, Issue 1–4, pp 147–173

Thermospheric Density: An Overview of Temporal and Spatial Variations



Neutral density shows complicated temporal and spatial variations driven by external forcing of the thermosphere/ionosphere system, internal dynamics, and thermosphere and ionosphere coupling. Temporal variations include abrupt changes with a time scale of minutes to hours, diurnal variation, multi-day variation, solar-rotational variation, annual/semiannual variation, solar-cycle variation, and long-term trends with a time scale of decades. Spatial variations include latitudinal and longitudinal variations, as well as variation with altitude. Atmospheric drag on satellites varies strongly as a function of thermospheric mass density. Errors in estimating density cause orbit prediction error, and impact satellite operations including accurate catalog maintenance, collision avoidance for manned and unmanned space flight, and re-entry prediction. In this paper, we summarize and discuss these density variations, their magnitudes, and their forcing mechanisms, using neutral density data sets and modeling results. The neutral density data sets include neutral density observed by the accelerometers onboard the Challenging Mini-satellite Payload (CHAMP), neutral density at satellite perigees, and global-mean neutral density derived from thousands of orbiting objects. Modeling results are from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) thermosphere-ionosphere-electrodynamics general circulation model (TIE-GCM), and from the NRLMSISE-00 empirical model.


Thermosphere neutral density Density variation Satellite drag Density data Model simulation 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.High Altitude ObservatoryNational Center for Atmospheric ResearchBoulderUSA

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