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NASA Will Illuminate the East Coast With Colorful Artificial Clouds to Study Earth's Aurora, Ionosphere

Jun 13, 2017 03:11 PM EDT
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See a NASA rocket: Create colorful artificial clouds on the east coast of the United States tonight
NASA will attempt to launch a rocket in order to study the Earth's ionosphere despite bad weather. The rocket will carry canisters of vapor with chemicals will react when exposed to sunlight.
(Photo : Science and More/NASA/YouTube)

NASA will perform an experiment that will illuminate the U.S. East Coast skies with a colorful burst of artificial clouds. Reports say bluish green and red clouds will appear in the sky during the experiment to study the charged particles on top of the Earth's atmosphere.

For the experiment, NASA will launch a rocket with 10 canisters of barium for its payload. The canisters will also carry chemicals for the experiment.

The rocket launch will originate from Wallops Island in Virgina. Shortly after NASA's launch, the canisters -- which are described to be about the size of soda cans -- will release the vapors that are blue green and red. The vapors will turn into artificial clouds that may be visible when viewed from the ground. The colorful artificial clouds might be seen from New York to Carolina.

The artificial clouds won't be as bright if not for the sunlight. Reports say that the sunlight will emphasize the colorful effect of the vapors when the chemicals barium, strontium and cupric oxide interact with light. The experiment will observe and analyze the aurora or the lights created by the interaction of chemicals and sunlight.

"The ionosphere is both shaped by waves from the atmosphere below and uniquely responsive to the changing conditions in space," a NASA official said.

Using the sunlight to study the Earth's atmosphere is not new. In fact, the changing colors of the atmosphere occur naturally.

"Changes in the ionosphere are primarily driven by the sun's activity, a NASA official said in a blog post. "Though it may appear unchanging to us on the ground, our sun is, in fact, a very dynamic, active star. Watching the sun in ultraviolet wavelengths of light from space - above our UV light-blocking atmosphere - reveals constant activity, including bursts of light, particles, and magnetic fields."

The experiment will explore the Earth's ionosphere, the layer on top of the atmosphere of charged particles that are thrown to space. This process results in a majestic light display in space.

The experiment will be done during an eight-minute flight, but the colorful artificial clouds may stay longer for about 20 minutes depending on weather conditions. Bad weather conditions have prevented previous launch attempts but NASA is bent to launch the rocket again.

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