Here, we introduce a low-cost airglow imaging system developed for observing plasma bubble signatures in 630.0-nm airglow emission from the F region of the ionosphere. The system is composed of a small camera, optical filter, and fish-eye lens, and is operated using free software that automatically records video from the camera. A pilot system was deployed in Ishigaki Island in the southern part of Japan (Lat 24.4, Lon 124.4, Mlat 19.6) and was operated for ~ 1.5 years from 2014 to 2016 corresponding to the recent solar maximum period. The pilot observations demonstrated that it was difficult to identify the plasma bubble signature in the raw image captured every 4 s. However, the quality of the image could be improved by reducing the random noise of instrumental origin through an integration of 30 consecutive raw images obtained in 2 min and further by subtracting the 1-h averaged background image. We compared the deviation images to those from a co-existing airglow imager of OMTIs, which is equipped with a back-illuminated cooled CCD camera with a high quantum efficiency of ~ 90%. It was confirmed that the low-cost airglow imager is capable of imaging the spatial structure of plasma bubbles, including their bifurcating traces. The results of these pilot observations in Ishigaki Island will allow us to distribute the low-cost imager in a wide area and construct a network for monitoring plasma bubbles and their space weather impacts on satellite navigation systems.[Figure not available: see fulltext.].
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