Man Made Northern Lights will light up the coast!!
Three months to build & plan a launch – sound incredible? Sound hard to believe? Sound Rockets…
Sounding rockets are the vessel for some pretty cool things. A Sounding Rocket handles things for educational purposes or tests or just scientific instruments into space along a parabolic trajectory. The time spent in space is usually quite brief – from 5 to 20 minutes and usually at lower speeds to allow for accuracy. Actually Sounding rockets are especially helpful as some altitudes are just too low for satellites but provide a platform that is just right for the Sounding rocket. For at least 45 years the Sounding Rocket Program has given us critical scientific, technical, and educational contributions and as a result is one of the most varied and cost-effective flight programs at NASA.
However it is sometimes these lower altitudes that make finding a proper launch window tricky. Take the launch NASA Wallops has been scheduled now for a total of ~8-9 times and that amount is quickly growing. The launch requires, especially in this particular case, a clear sky but also can’t have too great of a wind.
What is this launch? Well first let me tell you why if you live on the Eastern Seaboard (USA) up to New York, you need to watch the skies the night of the launch. It really is going to be quite awesome. The science studies of this particular mission relate to the ionosphere and auroras. Interested yet?
The flight is a two-stage Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket. While it flies it will release into the ionosphere about ten small canisters maybe the size of a soda can. The cans will be released about 5 minutes from the launch time – actually between 4 and 5.5 minutes, and will form vapor tracers to allow researchers on the ground to visually track particle motions in space.
Now this won’t be a long lasting event. The total flight time expected is only ~10 minutes. The rest would rely on the winds and other outside variables. However NASA ground cameras will be picking up the event from both Wallops and Duck, NC.
Barium, Strontium, and Cupric-Oxide are the contents of the cans and are not harmful so suggest no hazard to the residents – so just enjoy the show.
To be honest, when I first learned of this launch I read how it was to study an aurora and thought ‘don’t we know all there is to know about Auroras?’ – Well, okay, my first thought was cool I want to see this but my second thought was: aren’t auroras created up in the magnetosphere from charged particles in the solar wind (basically just electrons & protons)? I seemed to recall that the resulting ionization/excitation of the atmospheric contents results in bands of varying colors (depending on the elements involved). It usually occurs at the poles but occasionally a geomagnetic storm might enlarge the ‘auroral oval’. I’ll admit most of this portion is from memory and one of my high school science class’ but point being I didn’t think there was anything to learn.
Seems scientists are hoping to track gas particle movements within the clouds they create and test some imaging technologies. So, the answer is yes, and no. Yes we understand most that there is to know of auroras but also this experiment is also to look into some aurora imaging technologies. And besides…it’s bound to look really cool!