NASA Creates Bright Artificial Clouds Over the Eastern U.S.

A NASA sounding rocket launched early this morning and lit up the skies over the U.S. East Coast with colorful clouds, ringing in an early July Fourth celebration.

The launch of the Terrier-Improved Malemute two-stage sounding rocket had been repeatedly rescheduled, but the rocket finally got its chance at 4:25 a.m. EDT (0825 GMT) today (June 29). The rocket lifted off from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, and its flight lasted about 8 minutes.

A Terrier-Improved Malemute two-stage sounding rocket lifted off from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia to release colorful clouds into the upper atmosphere June 29.

Approximately 4 to 6 minutes into takeoff, 10 canisters released barium, strontium and cupric oxide, which interacted with each other to form colorful vapor. Scientists could use the red and blue-green artificial clouds that formed to track the movement of particles in Earth’s ionosphere, which is in its upper atmosphere. They were visible along the mid-Atlantic coastline from North Carolina as far north as New York, and could be seen as far west as Charlottesville, Virginia, according to NASA. (NASA Wallops reported cloud views as far as Staten Island, NY and Outer Banks, NC.)

NASA artificial clouds

NASA’s sounding rocket drew a bright streak in the sky as it lifted off June 29 before releasing colorful artificial clouds.


NASA artificial clouds

After launch, the NASA sounding rocket released artificial clouds that scientists can use to track the movement of Earth’s ionosphere.

The ionosphere that the sounding rocket is looking to study is the layer of Earth’s atmosphere that is ionized (hence the name) by solar and cosmic radiation. When an atom or molecule is called an ion, it simply means that the particle does not have the normal number of electrons — instead, it carries a negative or positive charge.

The artificial clouds were part of a NASA experiment designed to test high-altitude winds and cloud movement. By tracking how these artificial clouds move, NASA could get better understand weather patterns and collect data they would never be able to get from a weather balloon.

NASA artificial clouds

Artificial clouds should be visible June 1 very early in the morning over the mid-Atlantic coast, from New York to North Carolina and as far west as Charlottesville, Virginia.

If you live within a few hundred miles of Delaware, you could probably could have seen them from your home, and plenty of people posted their photos on social media.

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