Tech & Science A NASA rocket is going to blast colored clouds into space — here's how to see them

05:45  19 june  2017
05:45  19 june  2017 Source:   Tech Insider

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The Cusp Region EXPeriment (C-REX) in 2014 created brightly colored clouds in space . NASA is launching a rocket that will create colorful clouds in space . The rocket launch and clouds may be visible as far away as New York City. In particular, they want to make them visible — which is where the colored clouds come into

× A NASA rocket is going to blast colored clouds into space — here ' s how to see them . NASA is launching a rocket that will create colorful clouds in space . The rocket launch and clouds may be visible as far away as New York City.

cusp region experiment crex space clouds flickr jason ahrns ccbyncsa2 14880829347_eba4aafd5b_o© Provided by Business Insider Inc cusp region experiment crex space clouds flickr jason ahrns ccbyncsa2 14880829347_eba4aafd5b_o

  • NASA is launching a rocket that will create colorful clouds in space.
  • The rocket launch and clouds may be visible as far away as New York City.
  • Such clouds will eventually be used to probe two big holes in Earth's magnetic shield, called cusps.
  • The launch will be live-streamed by NASA Wallops Flight Facility.

For the last two weeks, NASA has been waiting for the right moment to launch a rocket that will puff clouds of red and blue-green vapor out into space.

The rocket was originally supposed to launch on May 31, but poor visibility delayed the mission a number of times. The next attempt will be made Sunday, June 18, with a hopeful liftoff time between 9:06 p.m. and 9:21 p.m. EDT.

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The Cusp Region EXPeriment (C-REX) in 2014 created brightly colored clouds in space . NASA is launching a rocket that will create colorful clouds in space . The rocket launch and clouds may be visible as far away as New York City. In particular, they want to make them visible — which is where the colored clouds come into

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To find out if the launch is a go, you can check the facility's Facebook page or Twitter account.

If the skies are clear enough, the sounding rocket carrying the experiment will launch from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. In that case, many people on the US East Coast — as far north as New York City — may see brightly colored puffs of "tracer vapors" more than 90 miles above Earth.

The psychedelic space clouds should appear low on the southern horizon about 5 minutes after the rocket launch.

"I've seen some of these tests where the clouds really filled the sky," Keith Koehler, a NASA Wallops spokesperson, told Business Insider. "My guess is if you held your fist up, that might be the size of the clouds [close to the launch site]."

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A NASA rocket is going to blast colored clouds into space — here ' s how to see them . NASA ; Jason Ahrns/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) Update: NASA scrubbed the launch on Tuesday, June 13, due to cloudy weather, since it would have blocked the view of artificial clouds .

A NASA rocket is going to blast colored clouds into space — here ' s how to see them . NASA ; Jason Ahrns/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) Update: NASA scrubbed the launch on Tuesday, June 13, due to cloudy weather, since it would have blocked the view of artificial clouds .

space clouds launch viewing region june 2017 nasa wallops© Provided by Business Insider Inc space clouds launch viewing region june 2017 nasa wallops

If you won't be in the area at that time, don't fret: NASA Wallops will host live video on Ustream, with coverage kicking off around 8:30 p.m. EDT.

NASA's space clouds, however, aren't merely for show.

Probing Earth's leaky atmosphere

The experiment is one of many missions in an international "Grand Challenge" initiative aimed at helping scientists probe two gaping holes in Earth's protective magnetic shield, called cusps.

The two holes in our invisible shield leak nearly 100 tons of air per day, according to Astronomy Now.

The magnetic bubble that surrounds our planet is vital to life, since it deflects the sun's constant wind of high-energy particles — and protects against the occasional solar storm. Without this invisible force field, Earth may have gone the way of Mars, which lost its magnetic dynamo billions of years ago. That allowed the sun to blow most of the Martian atmosphere into deep space, turning a once wet and potentially habitable world into a dry and nearly airless global desert.

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A NASA rocket is going to blast colored clouds into space — here ' s how to see them . NASA will release ten soda-can-sized canisters containing blue-green and red vapor to form artificial clouds , the space agency explained on its website.

A NASA rocket is going to blast colored clouds into space — here ' s how to see them . NASA will release ten soda-can-sized canisters containing blue-green and red vapor to form artificial clouds , the space agency explained on its website.

sounding rocket terrier improved malmute nasa© Provided by Business Insider Inc sounding rocket terrier improved malmute nasa NASAWe won't run out of air anytime soon (thankfully, our planet has quadrillions of tons left), but scientists are still struggling to understand how the cusps work. In particular, they want to make them visible — which is where the colored clouds come into play.

Launching tracer vapors such as barium (green), cupric-oxide (blue-green), and strontium (red) into the Earth's ionosphere — where charged air particles and the solar wind interact — will show how the clouds move through the region. This data could then help verify and update computer models of the fringes of Earth's atmosphere.

Those models, in turn, may help researchers better understand all sorts of high-altitude phenomena, including auroras, geomagnetic storms — and why a planet like Mars lost all its air while ours has held on to its atmosphere.

Launching space clouds

Koehler says nearly all tracer-vapor missions, except for a few recent test launches, spew the vapors directly out of the rocket body. This limits the data that scientists can collect from the ground, however, because the colored clouds are close together and often hard to distinguish.

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A NASA rocket is going to blast colored clouds into space — here ' s how to see them . NASA will release ten soda-can-sized canisters containing blue-green and red vapor to form artificial clouds , the space agency explained on its website.

A NASA rocket is going to blast colored clouds into space — here ' s how to see them . NASA ; Jason Ahrns/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) Update: NASA scrubbed the launch on Tuesday, June 13, due to cloudy weather, since it would have blocked the view of artificial clouds .

The upcoming launch will test a new method: Shooting lightweight canisters, called ampules, out of the sides of the rocket. The 10 canisters are expected to travel 6 to 12 miles before they start releasing vapor, which should make a constellation of colored clouds that are easy to distinguish and follow from the ground.

"They're made of aluminum and about the size of a Coke can," Koehler said of the ampules.

ampules tracer vapor space clouds sounding rocket experiment nasa© Provided by Business Insider Inc ampules tracer vapor space clouds sounding rocket experiment nasa

The chemical tracer clouds aren't easily observable by themselves — they react to sunlight. So to maximize their visibility, the launch will happen when it's dark on the ground, yet the sun is still visible from space.

"These launches have to occur just after sunset or right before sunrise. You need sunlight to hit the vapors and activate them as they're released," Koehler said. "Auroras dance across the sky, and this is not that."

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