More than 80 percent of the results of the Israeli experiments conducted aboard the shuttle Columbia were relayed to Earth prior to the spacecraft's disintegration.
A report published yesterday by the Israel Space Agency and scientists from Tel Aviv University and the Open University shows a large portion of the findings were relayed to the ground in real time. The findings will be transferred to Israel next week.
The researchers say the experiments yielded a number of important scientific results and findings, including rare photographs of lightning formed at high altitudes and of dust movement in the Middle East region.
Furthermore, photographs taken by Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon provide initial proof that dust inhibits the development of clouds.
"The results of our experiments in space far exceed our expectations," said Avi Har-Even, director-general of the ISA, yesterday. "When I informed Rona Ramon and Ilan's father of the results of the experiments, they were very excited and saw it as an achievement."
The main Israeli experiment conducted by the Columbia crew was known as MEIDEX (Mediterranean Israeli Dust Experiment). It was designed to study dust particles in the area of the Mediterranean. Studies carried out until now have shown that the dust carries germs and viruses between continents and also has an effect on rain clouds.
The Israeli scientists yesterday rejected claims that the data yielded by the experiment was primarily technical. In the second week of Columbia's mission, they said, fierce storms raged over the Atlantic Ocean and, on nine orbits, the astronauts photographed and recorded dust plumes moving westward from Africa.
"Thanks to the data received, we will be able to conduct a serious study on the characteristics of the dust," explained Prof. Yosef Yehoyakhin, an expert in atmospheric sciences from Tel Aviv University.
The researchers said that particularly significant findings came from photographs taken by Ramon above the jungles of Brazil. The photographs show huge concentrations of dust stemming from controlled fires in the Amazon area and the researchers have concluded that the dust prevents rain clouds from reaching the area of the fires.
Another experiment conducted by means of the MEIDEX camera yielded unique photographs of lightning storms. The Columbia crew was asked to document "sprites" - an electromagnetic phenomenon that occurs at high altitudes. "I hoped we'd manage to get just one picture of a sprite," said Dr. Yoav Yair of the Open University yesterday. "But we have managed to document 11."
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