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.
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.)
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.
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.
The wait is over! The Terrier-Improved Malemute launched this morning, June 29, at 4:25 a.m. An early Independence Day fireworks display!! pic.twitter.com/Y5x6Oz2hu8
— NASA Wallops (@NASA_Wallops) June 29, 2017
This time lapse covered about 24 minutes pic.twitter.com/euumzb2lQR
— Christopher Becke (@BeckePhysics) June 29, 2017