What were those colorful lights in the sky over Virginia?

Posted at 10:38 AM, Jun 29, 2017

WALLOPS FLIGHT FACILITY, Va. -- NASA launched a much-anticipated rocket Thursday morning after scrubbing the launch too many times to count.

The Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket created a light show of blue-green and red clouds visible on much of the East Coast, from New York to North Carolina when it launched at about 4:25 a.m.

The rocket's launch had been delayed several times since May 31, with the last attempt, on June 24, foiled by extensive cloud cover. Previous attempts were scrubbed for various reasons, from strong winds and clouds to boats in the potential payload landing area.

The rocket launched from Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia's eastern shore.

Four to five minutes after launch, the sounding rocket deployed 10 canisters about the size of soft drink cans, each containing a colored vapor that forms artificial, luminescent clouds.

The clouds, or vapor tracers, are formed "through the interaction of barium, strontium and cupric-oxide," according to NASA.

Since the canisters were released about 100 miles (160 kilometers) above the ground, the space agency said they "pose absolutely no hazard to residents along the mid-Atlantic coast."

Sounding rockets have been used for more than 40 years to carry science payloads on missions that last five to 20 minutes.

Vapor tracers to put on show

The vapor tracers will allow scientists on the ground to view the movement of the particles in the ionosphere, a part of Earth's atmosphere that stretches to the edge of space, to learn more about the movement of the air currents at that altitude.

The whole mission lasted about eight minutes before the payload landed in the Atlantic Ocean, about 90 miles (145 kilometers) out to sea from its launch point in Virginia.

"The vapor tracers could be visible from New York to North Carolina and westward to Charlottesville, Virginia," NASA said.



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