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Fake Aurora? NASA's Rocket Launch Causes Colorful Clouds In The Sky [Video]

Jun 30, 2017 11:33 AM EDT
NASA sounding rocket launch
NASA's sounding rocket released vapor that created colorful clouds visible from New York to North Carolina.
(Photo : NASAWallops/YouTube)

July 4 isn't for a couple of days, but NASA has already lit up the sky with a colorful burst of clouds from the launch of a sounding rocket.

According to an official report from NASA, a Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket was successfully launched at 4:25 a.m., Thursday, June 29, from the agency's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. It was an eight-minute flight, during which 10 canisters as big as softdrink cans were tossed out into space.

These released blue-green and red vapor, creating artificial clouds that could be seen from New York to North Carolina. NASA's colorful clouds -- also known as vapor tracers -- help scientists from the ground track the movement of particles in space during ionosphere or aurora science missions. This multi-canister ampoule ejection system makes the collection of information over a much larger area possible.

This specific launch was originally scheduled for May 31, but poor weather kept pushing it back until a window of agreeable conditions allowed the successful mission to take place nearly a month later.

"Patience paid off today with a brilliant launch and successful technology test of this new ampoule system," Bill Wrobel, Wallops Flight Facility director, said in a report from CNN. "This flight paves the way for an upcoming science mission taking flight from Norway that will use this ampoule deployment system to study the aurora."

There were reports of sightings of NASA's colorful cloud from New York to North Carolina, including spots in between like Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Many people were able to witness the fascinating light show, so it's a relief when NASA scientists assured the public that the launches do not pose any danger to human health.

According to a report from The Verge, the vapor tracers are composed of barium, lithium, and trimethylaluminum -- the same chemicals that make up fireworks. Furthermore, the agency's rockets have a lot less of these ingredients than a big fireworks display.

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