NASA just launched a rocket that created huge, colorful clouds that will probe two big holes in the Earth’s magnetic shield –called cusps- which could lead to significant breakthroughs in our understanding of this phenomenon.

The agency’s Wallops Flight Facility released incredible photos of the colorful clouds, and they released a video showing the clouds. NASA had been reportedly waiting for the right moment to launch the colorful clouds, which were colors of bluish green and red.

Image credit: NASA Wallops / Business Insider
Image credit: NASA Wallops / Business Insider

The clouds were launched on June 29 from the Wallops Flights Facility in Virginia. NASA explained that the ten canisters that created the clouds were each about the size of a soda can, and they produced “tracer vapors” that were visible from North Carolina to New York. The clouds allow scientists to track where particles move in space.

NASA’s colorful clouds were seen all the way from New York to North Carolina and Maryland

NASA detailed the event in a statement published on its website. They explained that during the 8-minute flight, the ten canisters were ejected in space, between 6 to 12 miles away from the 670-pound main payload.

The clouds will allow scientists on the ground to visually track particle motions in space during an ionosphere or aurora science mission. NASA noted that the development of the multi-canister ampoule ejection system would allow researchers to collect information over a much larger are than previously possible when the tracers are deployed.

The rocket, which had been delayed multiple times over the last 30 days, was able to fly at an altitude of about 118 miles. Wallops received over 2,000 reports and pictures of the cloud sightings from areas as far north as New York, as south as North Carolina, and inland throughout Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

“NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility provides agile, low-cost flight and launch range services to meet government and commercial sector needs for accessing flight regimes worldwide from the Earth’s surface to the moon,” said NASA in its statement.

Rocket used to launch colorful clouds into the sky can endure payloads of up to 400 pounds

NASA also noted that Wallops’ flight assets range from research aircraft, unmanned aerial systems and high-altitude balloons to suborbital and orbital rockets, which provide a full range of capability, while operational launch range and airfield capabilities meet emerging and ongoing needs in the science, defense, aerospace, and commercial industries.

The rocket that launched the colorful clouds into space was called the Terrier-Malemute launch vehicle, which is a high-performance two-stage vehicle used for payloads that weigh less than 400 pounds.

The first stage booster has a Terrier MK 12 Mod 1 rocket motor with four 340 square inch fin panels that have been arranged in a cruciform configuration. The booster has an overall diameter of 18 inches.

Source: NASA