WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

NASA scrubs launch expected to create glowing clouds in eastern NC

Posted June 13

NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore of Virginia canceled a rocket launch Tuesday night that was expected to produce glowing clouds in the upper atmosphere visible from eastern parts of the WRAL viewing area.

The launch was canceled due to cloudy conditions, according to NASA.

NASA planned the launch of a Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket from the Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

This sounding rocket lifts payloads less than 400 pounds into the upper atmosphere for scientific studies.

Tuesday's mission was meant to test a new canister ejection system designed to support studies of the ionosphere and aurora over a wider area. Canisters deploy at altitudes of 96 and 124 miles. Each canister is about the size of a soda can and releases strontium, barium and copper-oxide which interact to form vapor to form artificial clouds which glow blue-green and red.

The clouds are not dangerous and are similar to injecting a harmless die into a stream to study its currents and motion. The vapor released is made up of metals similar to those found in the fireworks we’ll be enjoying in a few weeks.

Altitude graphic

Vapor tracers like these enable study the ionosphere where charged particles from the sun strip electrons off gas molecules leaving ions behind. The movement revealed by the vapor tracers is especially interesting because it is driven both by heating and cooling below as well as from electric fields generated by solar winds and the Earth’s magnetic field from above.

Visibility map

Tonight’s attempt was the seventh since May 31. Previous attempts were scrubbed due to clouds, high winds, and even a boat that had strayed into the area. The area of high pressure which brought warm temperatures to our area is hoped to bring the clear skies required for the launch.

Tony Rice is a volunteer in the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador program and software engineer at Cisco Systems. You can follow him on Twitter @rtphokie.


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  • Tim Orr Jun 21, 9:24 p.m.
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    Odd no one else has complained about it. Maybe it's just you...

  • Jonathan Hamilton Jun 13, 3:13 p.m.
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    That first image is easily one of the worst visual aids I have ever seen. Who is responsible for that? Somebody needs to have a serious conversation about the future with whoever made that.