NASA launch from Virginia could produce brief green and violet auroras visible from the eastern US

STEM
A four-stage Black Brant XII sounding rocket. (NASA)

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A unique NASA launch from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia could be visible from the eastern United States on Saturday.

This particular launch will study how energy and momentum are transported through different regions in space. A suborbital NASA Black Brant XII sounding rocket will launch the experiment, named KiNet-X, from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia toward Bermuda.

According to NASA, “Two barium vapor clouds emitted from the rocket’s payload will generate a magnetic field perturbation, and electrons are likely to be energized.” The vapors are not harmful to the environment or public health.

The 40-minute launch window will open at 8:02 p.m. EDT Saturday, May 8. Backup launch days run through May 16.

The vapor clouds will be emitted about 9 minutes and 30 seconds after liftoff, and could also be visible from the eastern US as well as Bermuda. As NASA said, “it is possible the KiNET-X payload will generate auroral emissions on a very small scale, but that is an unknown aspect of this experiment.”

There will be instruments on board, as well as specialized cameras in Bermuda and on planes to better observe the energized electron interactions.

The experiment will take place about 217-249 miles above the Atlantic Ocean, just north of Bermuda.

There is a small chance to briefly see the vapors immediately after they have been released. Spherical clouds will be a mixture of green and violet but this phase only lasts about 30 seconds. The violet color created from exposure to sunlight is harder to see with the human eye.

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