If you’re up early enough Sunday morning and are near the mid-Atlantic coast, you can catch a colorful NASA-inspired cloud show.
Shortly before 5 a.m., a sounding rocket will launch from the Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s eastern shore. The 670-pound rocket is on a fact-finding mission to support studies of the ionosphere and aurora, but its purpose is overshadowed here on Earth by 10 Pepsi-can-sized canisters.
The rocket will deploy the canisters roughly five minutes after launch, or about 96 to 124 miles above ground. It will cast them out between six and 12 miles into the morning air, where they’ll leave blue-green and red vapor clouds. The “vapor tracers” are an interaction between barium, strontium and cupric-oxide.
The experiment allows NASA scientists to track particle motions in space. Scattering the clouds across the sky allows NASA to cover a wider area.
NASA estimates people living along the coast from New York City to North Carolina should be able to spot the clouds, including Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. People as far west as Charlottesville, Va., may also be able to get a view.
The launch will last about 8 minutes and the rocket will land in the Atlantic Ocean about 90 miles from the shore. NASA said the rocket will not be recovered and the clouds do not pose a hazard to residents.
If you don’t live near the coast, NASA will stream the mission starting at 3:45 a.m. from its Wallops Ustream website.
Follow Sean Rossman on Twitter: @SeanRossman
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