NASA will launch a rocket carrying barium, cupric-oxide, and strontium to the atmosphere. These chemicals are usually found in commercial fireworks and will be used to study air currents at high altitudes.

The colored clouds will allow researchers to study cloud movement, but at the same time will serve as a preparation for the upcoming 4th of July fireworks. The rocket is scheduled to launch between 9:04 and 9:19 p.m. EDT if weather conditions are appropriate.

NASA Colored Clouds
The ampule doors on the sounding rocket payload are open during testing at the Wallops Flight Facility. Image credit: NASA/ Berit Bland.

Launching fireworks for science

Colored clouds should be visible from New York to North Carolina, and to some extent in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The launch was supposed to take place on June 11, but it was rescheduled for today due to boats being in the vicinity, potentially exposing them to being hit by rocket parts. Ten canisters will be launched up into the sky, deploying what would be equivalent to 5 minutes of blue, green, and red clouds.

NASA Clouds
A map showing the projected visibility of the vapor tracers during the May 31 mission. Image credit: NASA.

The purpose is to study particle motions in the ionosphere. The event will be captured by grounded cameras in North Carolina, although it is necessary for the sky to be clear for the launch to take place as programmed.

“The area of high pressure responsible for the heat wave in the eastern U.S. will also promote clear skies through next week, which will bode well for the NASA launch,” stated Faith Eherts from AccuWeather, according to the Smithsonian.

The canisters will be released at an altitude between 96 and 124 miles high. Supposedly, the launch will not pose a threat to nearby residents

Live coverage of the event will start at 8:30 p.m. by Wallops at Ustream. It will also be covered through Facebook at 8:50 p.m. More information is available through Wallops Twitter account and on the “What’s Up at Wallops” app.

Studying particles in the atmosphere

The Earth’s magnetic field causes airborne particles to follow its magnetic field lines relative to the poles. For example, if one draws a straight line that passes through the Earth’s magnetic poles, from south magnetic pole to the north, it would result in one of the field lines that atmospheric particles are likely to follow when they reach the magnetosphere.

Additionally, Earth’s magnetic field is conditioned by solar winds. The rocket containing the colored clouds will be launched at nighttime, meaning that the launch site will not be directly facing the sun nor it will be directly against.

Studying the motion of particles in the atmosphere is a science in itself, and creating traceable clouds will allow researchers to understand more about what factors react and which particles are causing them to move along a particular trajectory.

It is not the first time NASA creates tracer clouds in the sky. This has been standard practice since the 1950s, as it helps researchers study particles at high altitudes. The area to be studied cannot be reached by satellites, but it is still too high for conventional aircraft to fly. Although NASA could reach the needed altitude through other methods, it is far more cost-efficient to launch a rocket loaded with tracer vapors.

Source: NASA